By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State was facing an uphill battle against No. 18 Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.
It got even steeper when the Bulldogs learned starting point guard I.J. Ready would miss the game due to illness. With only seven scholarship players, MSU held its own with the Wildcats with an effort that pleased coach Rick Ray.
But it still would not be enough to overcome Kentucky as the Wildcats won their seventh straight over the Bulldogs, 69-59.
“When you play hard like that you can compete against anybody,” Ray said. “We’re just not where we need to be as far as our bodies and an offensive skill level to not compete and play hard. If we want to have success we have to do that every single time out on the court.”
Kentucky swept the season series, after winning 85-63 in Lexington on Jan. 8.
The Bulldogs (13-10, 3-7) led briefly in the first half but UK closed out the final nine minutes on a 19-6 run for a 32-23 halftime advantage.
State pulled to within six in the second half but that was as close as the Bulldogs would come as the Wildcats improved to 8-2 in Southeastern Conference play and 18-5 overall.
Kentucky shot 45 percent from the floor and were led by Julius Randle with 16 points on 8 of 13 shooting.
“I thought we did a better job in our first game against Julius Randle than we did today,” Ray said. “You can’t allow him to get touches. He’s just such a strong, physical presence that if he gets a touch he’s either going to score or you’re going to foul him.”
James Young, with 11, was the only other Wildcat in double figures.
Mississippi State shot just 28 percent in the first half but made 50 percent from the field in the second. But the Bulldogs were just 1 of 8 from behind the arc.
Gavin Ware, Trivante Bloodman and Craig Sword all finished with 12 points while Roquez Johnson chipped in 10 off the bench.
MSU continues its homestand Wednesday against Georgia at 8 p.m.