One Kentucky sports writer told me after Tuesday night’s 74-56

One Kentucky sports writer told me after Tuesday night’s 74-56 win by the Wildcats over Mississippi State that UK would go unbeaten in the SEC.

16-0! I don’t think so.

It’s a weak year in the SEC, but I don’t see any team, including the K-Cats, going unbeaten through a 16-game schedule. The second-ranked Wildcats are human, even though they may not have looked like it to Mississippi State fans at “The Hump” and those watching on ESPN.

Now, I wouldn’t be going out on a limb to predict Kentucky will win the regular-season championship with a 14-2, 15-1 record. That’s a no-brainer. The Wildcats are solid enough, deep enough and talented enough to take on all foes. But they’ll slip up somewhere along the way, maybe at Georgia, Auburn or Vanderbilt.

A lot of Mississippi State fans were hoping the Wildcats would slip up during their visit to Mississippi. It didn’t happen. The Bulldogs are a very good basketball team, but they’re in the same class (a notch or two below UK) with Auburn, Arkansas, Georgia, Vandy and South Carolina.

For a brief moment Tuesday, State looked like it might be able to pull off the upset. It came in the second half when Darryl Wilson nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 12 minutes, 44 seconds remaining to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 41-38.

The fans were rocking. The players were pumped. The Bulldogs switched to a zone defense.

I can sum up Kentucky’s response to the zone in five simple sentences.

I’m open, I’ll make it.

I’m open, I’ll make it.

I’m open, I’ll make it.

I’m open, I’ll make it.

I’ll blow by you for a layup, foul and free throw.

Mississippi State, the nation’s No. 12 team, was down 56-38 in a short span of about three minutes.

“We were coming back in our zone defense and they (Kentucky) found the open man and hit the shots,” was State point guard Marcus Bullard’s explanation of what happened.

Kentucky’s defense didn’t let Mississippi State get anywhere near that open. The Bulldogs shot a season-low 34 percent. Bullard, a 55 percent shooter, was 0-for-6. Wilson scored 19 points, hitting five 3-pointers, but he had to work extremely hard to get free.

“Kentucky got into us with their pressure on the perimeter,” Bullard said. “They forced us to do things we didn’t want to do. … They kept shooting people at us.”

Plenty of season left

There are plenty of games remaining 13 in the league and one outside (Oklahoma) for the Bulldogs. This team’s good enough, if it can cut down on those darn turnovers, to win nine, maybe 10 of those and return to the NCAA Tournament.

“This is not the end-all to the season. It’s only the third game!” MSU coach Richard Williams said, glaring at a room full of reporters. “We have 13 (SEC) games to go. How we handle this (loss) will determine how good we can be.”

UK’s Rick Pitino acknowledged that State’s “Achilles’ heel” is its problem with turnovers: 28 against UK, 17 against Florida, 27 against LSU.

“They’ve got to protect the basketball better,” Pitino said, hinting that State missed point guard T.J. Honore. “Mississippi State, come March, will be a great ball club. What Richard (Williams) has done here is truly remarkable.”

Kentucky, unbeaten in the SEC. No way. State, a great ball club in March. See me in late February.

Gene Phelps is sports editor for the Daily Journal.

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