LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - John Calipari had seen enough. The
Kentucky coach watched the Wildcats jog through 25 mostly
uninspired minutes against Mississippi State on Tuesday night when
he ordered his team to go to a fullcourt press.
The goal wasn't necessarily to turn the heat up on the Bulldogs,
but on Calipari's own players.
"We just had no fire, no fight," Calipari said. "I told them,
'We're pressing man to man and if you choose to go back, I'm
Brandon Knight scored 24 points and Doron Lamb added 20 in his
first start in nearly a month as No. 22 Kentucky held on for an
The Wildcats (18-7, 6-5 Southeastern Conference) took charge
when they pressed the Bulldogs (13-12, 5-6) into a series of
careless mistakes before narrowly avoiding a late-game collapse to
improve to 30-0 under Calipari at Rupp Arena.
"(The press) got us going," said Knight, who extended his
school freshman record with his 11th 20-point game of the season.
"We started forcing them to start rushing and used it to our
Kentucky shot 56 percent from the floor, including 67 percent in
the second half.
Mississippi State nearly matched the Wildcats shot for shot.
Ravern Johnson led the Bulldogs with 21 points and Jalen Steele
added a career-high 17 but the Bulldogs let an 11-point lead get
away late in the first half thanks to a bizarre meltdown.
The Bulldogs went up 40-35 on a pair of free throws by Johnson
with 5 seconds left in the half. Kentucky inbounded and Mississippi
State, with a couple of fouls to give, immediately fouled Knight.
The Wildcats inbounded near midcourt with 3 seconds remaining and
got the ball to Knight, who was fouled by Brian Bryant.
Knight, on Calipari's orders, threw the ball meekly toward the
rim after the contact. The referees awarded him three free throws,
saying he was in the act of shooting.
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury momentarily lost it,
earning a technical foul after storming after the officials.
Knight made four of the five free throws to pull Kentucky within
40-39 at the break and change the game.
"It was big because instead of being down five we're only down
one and when you see one on the scoreboard instead of five, you're
like, 'OK,' ... I thought the coach wouldn't agree with it
obviously," Knight said.
Stansbury declined to talk about the incident and instead placed
blame on his team's porous second-half defense.
"We're choosing our poison a bit with that zone (defense) and
you can't guard them all," he said.
Kentucky took its first lead of the game early in the second
half on a layup by Josh Harrellson but Mississippi State
momentarily righted itself, going in front 50-47 on a jumper by
Calipari then went to the press, and Kentucky responded with an
11-0 burst. Terrence Jones got the Wildcats going with a layup then
using his long arms to grab a pair of steals on Mississippi State's
next two possessions, leading to easy baskets at the other end of
The lead grew to 58-50 before the Bulldogs snapped out of it,
getting within 65-63 before another surge by the Wildcats pushed
the margin to 83-70 with 3:49 to play.
Kentucky, as it has done all season, struggled to put it away. A
series of turnovers and missed shots helped Mississippi State get
as close as 83-79 with 49 seconds remaining before Kentucky could
finish the Bulldogs off.
The Wildcats held on despite allowing the Bulldogs to make 12 of
22 3-pointers. It's a statistic Calipari can live with if his team
plays as effectively in the open floor. Kentucky outscored
Mississippi State 12-0 on the fast break.
Lamb started in place of Darius Miller, who was questionable
suffering a leg injury against the Commodores. Calipari has
repeatedly asked Lamb to play with more energy, and he responded
with his best performance since dropping 32 in a victory over
Winthrop in December.
Lamb knocked down 7 of 8 shots, including all three of his
3-pointers while winning a game-long duel with Mississippi State's
Dee Bost. Bost finished with 16 points but it was Lamb who had the
flair for the dramatic. He drilled a couple of big jumpers in the
second half to help give Kentucky some breathing room, holding
three fingers over his right eye after both shots.
"We just turned the ball over when we should have taken care of
the ball," Bost said. "They knocked down some shots in
The chippy atmosphere at Rupp has become commonplace in has
become an increasingly fractious rivalry.
The two teams fought a pair of classics last season, with
Kentucky prevailing in taut affairs, including an overtime win in
the SEC title game.
The stakes weren't quite so high this time, but for a Kentucky
team exposed on the road - where the Wildcats are just 1-5 in
conference - the victory was nearly as important.
Miller looked just fine when he saw the floor, finishing with 13
points. Terrence Jones had 17 points and 10 rebounds and senior
center Josh Harrellson held his own with Mississippi State
sophomore forward Renardo Sidney.
Harrellson had nine points and six rebounds compared to 11
points and eight boards for Sidney, who was completely gassed at
times and failed to shine in front of more than a dozen NBA scouts
Stansbury defended Sidney's effort, claiming the harassing phone
calls Sidney claims he received before the game played only a small
factor in his performance.
"I thought Sid played hard, does that mean every minute he's on
that floor he's fresh? No," Stansbury said. "That's just where he
is in his game right now."