- Saturday, February 19 2005 -
Mississippi State - 78 (Head Coach: Rick Stansbury) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 94 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 3rd by AP and 3rd by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 46, Mississippi State 43
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|South Carolina 61 - 73|||||Auburn 81 - 73|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats bounce back
The Kentucky basketball team was facing its first back-to-back losses in over three years, but turned a close game at halftime into a laugher, routing Mississippi State 94-78 at Rupp Arena.
With ESPN Gameday, Ashley Judd and a handful of former players in attendance, UK slapped State with a 27-6 run to start the second half to run away and hide. The win gave UK its 15th consecutive 20-win season and 50th overall.
"Our kids were really focused," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "When you play the game the right way Ð move, pass and share the ball Ð the game becomes a lot easier. We knew if we played unselfishly, we'd get good looks and opportunities."
The victory in front of 24,247 fans at Rupp emphatically silenced the critics who were skeptical of the Cats after a lackluster win over Georgia and a surprising loss to South Carolina. After days of being second guessed and having their toughness and desire questioned, the Cats wanted to prove a point against State.
"I don't like the term (good loss) because no loss is good," junior guard Ravi Moss said. "But if you can take a step forward (from the loss), it can be good."
UK took a leap forward in thrashing the Bulldogs. The Cats throttled State star forward Lawrence Roberts throughout the game, holding the senior to just seven points and three rebounds before he left with a knee injury with 7:05 left. The totals were 10 points and eight rebounds under his season averages, mainly because Roberts was in foul trouble throughout the game.
"We wanted to go at him early and get him in foul trouble," Smith said. "He didn't seem to have the same quickness."
In contrast, UK was light on its feet all night. The Cats jumped out to a 27-15 lead after just more than nine minutes, but watched State rally to take a 34-33 lead behind the strength of a 16-4 run. UK answered with an 8-0 spurt of its own and took a 46-43 lead into the break.
It didn't take long for UK to put the game out of reach in the second half. Patrick Sparks hit two three-pointers in a 10-0 run to start the second half as UK held State without a field goal attempt for more than three minutes. During the run, the Bulldogs missed all four of their free throw attempts and turned the ball over five times.
"The difference in the game was early in the second half when we missed six free throws and turned the basketball over," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "You can't turn the ball over on the road against good teams."
From there, UK dominated the game defensively. Freshman guard Rajon Rondo tied Wayne Turner's single-game school record (set in 1997) with eight steals in the game, part of 23 turnovers UK forced. The Cats turned those miscues into 29 points in scoring the most points it had all season long after being in an offensive slump.
"We just hit open shots and executed on offense," senior forward Chuck Hayes said. "Coach has been stressing (passing) for the last month and we finally did it. We got the ball inside and made them commit."
UK also place seven players in double digits for the first time since 1999, led by Randolph Morris' 17. Kelenna Azubuike added 15, Sparks 14, Hayes 12, Rondo 11 and both Moss and Ramel Bradley 10.
The Cats had a huge defensive assist from freshman point guard Rajon Rondo, who tied a school record for steals in a single game with eight, tying a 1997 record set by Wayne Turner.
"I guess he was just in the right place making great anticipation," Smith said. "If you aren't sure about a pass or throw a lazy pass, he'll get the steal."
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury was impressed with Rondo's play.
"Once the dam opened up a little and started to leak a little, it kept leaking more and more," Stansbury said. "(Rondo's) energy went up and up. We made careless passes and underestimated his quickness, then he made those turnovers turn into points."
NO MASKED MAN
Chuck Hayes decided to play without his mask to broken the broken nose he suffered a month ago, and had his best game since that time. Hayes finished with 12 points, six rebounds, four steals and four assists in 31 minutes.
"I felt fine," Hayes said. "It felt good not to have something sweaty on my face. I felt healthy enough to go without it. That thing gets sweaty and moves up and down."
Randolph Morris and Chuck Hayes surround Lawrence Roberts
Ramel Bradley slips by MSU's Winsome Frazier and Ontario Harper