The No. 1 Wildcats erupted for a 24-4 run midway through the second half Wednesday to turn what had been a single-digit margin most of the night into a cozy 74-56 win over Mississippi State at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville.
Kentucky (28-0, 15-0 SEC) held the Bulldogs without a field goal for 8:10 during the decisive run, stretching a four-point lead to 24 in what seemed like a blink of an eye.
"We guarded them," UK coach John Calipari said of the difference between the key run and the rest of the game. "And we got into the lane and made things happen."
Freshman forward Trey Lyles set a new career high with 18 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead four Cats in double-figure scoring. Aaron Harrison followed with 16 points, while Devin Booker tallied 14 and Karl-Anthony Towns added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
"I still think, at the end of the day, he'll be the 'X' factor for us," Calipari said of Lyles, a 6-foot-10 small forward who is averaging 12.3 points and shooting 60 percent from the floor in UK's last three games. "He'll be the guy they'll struggle to guard, who has offensive skills, who still gives us great size and rebounding ability... Let's say that maybe this was the start of something after he was sick and was out a couple of weeks."
It was an efficient offensive night for the Cats, who shot 49 percent from the field, 46 percent (6 of 13) from 3-point range and 92 percent (12 of 13) at the line.
Fred Thomas and Craig Sword led Mississippi State (12-16, 5-10 SEC) with 14 and 10 points, respectively. The Bulldogs shot 37 percent from the field and hurt their chances to pull an upset with shaky free throw (16 of 27) and 3-point (2 of 11) shooting.
With the win, Kentucky set a new school record for the longest single-season winning streak. The Cats are attempting to become the first undefeated NCAA champion since Indiana in 1976.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the night's highs and lows:
WHAT WE LIKED: Kentucky appeared to lack an “edge” for the first 25 minutes of action – perhaps due to a winter storm in Mississippi that kept what was expected to be a rowdy crowd on the tame side – but when the Cats flipped the switch, it was impressive. UK’s “finishing move” featured a number of run-out baskets, including three high-flying lobs and a monster dunk from Towns that will be on all the sports highlight reels the next 24 hours.
KEY MOMENT: After Mississippi State cut the lead to 41-37 with 15:10 remaining, Kentucky responded with its big run. From that point to the 7:00 mark, the Cats went 9-for-11 from the field and allowed no buckets by the Bulldogs.
STAT OF THE DAY: Playing on the road against an aggressive defensive team, Kentucky had just nine turnovers leading to six points for the Bulldogs.
BY THE NUMBERS:
6 – Transition points for the Bulldogs.
9 – Blocked shots by Kentucky, the 12th time this season the Cats have recorded at least that many.
12 – UK points via dunks.
34:00 - Time elapsed before the Bulldogs made their first 3-pointer of the game.
6,795 - Sparse crowd at "The Hump" after a major snowstorm moved through the South prior to the game.
QUOTABLE: "If (the Bulldogs) made free throws, this was a different game.” – Calipari on MSU going 16 of 27 at the line.
UP NEXT: Kentucky returns to action Saturday at Rupp Arena against No. 18 Arkansas (23-5, 12-3 SEC) is coming off an 81-75 win over Texas A&M on Tuesday. The Razorbacks won both meetings with the Cats last season.