GAME NOTES: A pair of squads at opposite ends of the SEC standings face off on Wednesday night, as the Kentucky Wildcats welcome the Mississippi State Bulldogs to legendary Rupp Arena.
Since starting its SEC slate with a pair of wins, Mississippi State (7-19) has been spiraling out of control with 12 straight losses, the second-longest conference losing streak in program history. The Bulldogs' season reached a new low in its 72-31 home loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday, and at 2-12 in the league, they sit all alone in last place.
Since dropping a pair of road tilts at Florida (69-52) and Tennessee (88-58) earlier in the month, Kentucky has bounced back with two straight wins over Vanderbilt (74-70) and Missouri (90-83 in OT). The Wildcats started the season as one of the favorites to compete for a second straight national title, but now at 19-8 overall and in second place in the SEC (10-4), it is simply fighting for a chance to be selected to the NCAA Tournament field.
Kentucky has beaten Mississippi State on five straight occasions to improve its record in the all-time series to 88-20. The Wildcats have been especially dominant over the Bulldogs in Lexington (44-5).
Mississippi State was nothing short of woeful in its 41-point loss to Vanderbilt over the weekend, as it shot just 7-of-40 from the field (.175), the fewest field goals in a game for the team in the modern era (since 1950). It also got man-handled on the boards (51-17), and the only thing saving it from further embarrassment was a solid 15-of-18 showing from the foul line. The squad was without a double-digit scorer on the afternoon, with Jalen Steele coming off the bench to lead the way with nine points. The Bulldogs' entire season has been an exercise in futility, as they rank last in the SEC in both scoring offense (59.3 ppg) and scoring defense (69.0 ppg), and their -9.7 scoring margin is more than three times worse than the next-lowest team. Craig Sword, Fred Thomas and Steele all score between 9.4 and 9.8 ppg, while Gavin Ware (8.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg) is having a solid freshman season.
Although Kentucky surrendered its advantage late after leading for most of the second half against Missouri, Willie-Cauley Stein was able to force overtime with a game-tying layup in the final minute of regulation, and the team shot 11-of-14 from the foul line in the extra session to seal the deal. The Wildcats shot a lofty 50.8 percent on the evening and were paced by 24 points from Julius Mays. Alex Poythress (21 points), Archie Goodwin (18 points) and Ryan Harrows (16 points, six assists) were also impressive, while Cauley-Stein made a lasting impact inside with 12 points and seven blocks. For the season, UK scores 74.9 ppg on greater than 48 percent field goal shooting while giving up less than 65 ppg, but it recently suffered a huge blow with the loss of superstar freshman forward Nerlens Noel (10.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 4.4 bpg, 2.1 spg) to a torn ACL. Even without Noel, the Wildcats have plenty of talent. Fellow freshmen Goodwin (13.9 ppg) and Poythress (11.9 ppg) are the team's leading scorers, while Cauley-Stein (8.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.0 bpg) has taken Noel's spot in the starting lineup. Upperclassmen Kyle Wiltjer (11.3 ppg), Mays (9.9 ppg) and Harrow (9.8 ppg) are all strong outside shooters.
With Mississippi State being blown out by a mediocre Vanderbilt squad on its home floor, its difficult to imagine what kind dominating performance the Wildcats are bound to break out. Expect this one to be over before the first half is out.
Game Date and Time