Scout.com/Jeff Drummond

Kentucky Wildcats blow 20-point lead, hang on for 80-74 win over Mississippi State

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky used its trump card Tuesday against Mississippi State on a night when the No. 14 Wildcats' frontcourt slipped back into its inconsistent alter-ego.

Led by arguably the best backcourt in the nation, UK pulled out an 80-74 win over the Bulldogs despite getting very little production from the bigs and nearly blowing a 20-point second-half lead. 

Freshman guard Jamal Murray scored a game-high 22 points, followed closely by sophomore guard Tyler Ulis with 21. Freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe chipped in with 14 points and five assists to help Kentucky (13-3, 3-1 SEC) avoid what would have been a stunning upset loss at Rupp Arena.

In the aftermath, UK coach John Calipari was not pleased.

"You're up 20 and then you just... " Calipari said. "We have to do something when we have guys no-show us. We've got to figure out how we win anyway, and how do we play then?

"Like I said, we were up 18, 19, whatever it was, when they weren't playing well, and we figured out a way. So there were some good things. But give (MSU) credit, they didn't stop playing. If they hadn't turned it over as much as they did in a couple of stretches, they'd probably beat us."

Mississippi State (7-8, 0-3 SEC) got 20 points from Craig Sword and 14 from one-time UK recruiting target Malik Newman. The Bulldogs became only the second team in the Calipari era to shoot better than 50 percent from the field against the Cats, finishing 27-of-51 for 53 percent. But they also turned the ball over 19 times and were outrebounded 33-20.

In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from UK's victory...

KEY MOMENT:

With 14:26 remaining in the game, Kentucky looked like it was cruising to a blowout. The Wildcats led 53-33 following a dunk by Skal Labissiere. But questionable shot selection and uncharacteristic turnover issues opened the door for an MSU comeback. The Bulldogs trimmed the lead to seven on a 3-pointer by Fred Thomas with 4:26 remaining. Another 3-pointer by Thomas, a jumper by Quindarry Weatherspoon and a steal and jumper by I.J. Ready cut the deficit to three with 1:17 to go as the Rupp crowd of 23,897 sat in stunned silence. Kentucky's Ulis missed a short jumper on the ensuing possession, but Alex Poythress grabbed the offensive rebound while drawing a foul. He made both free throws to give the Cats some much-needed breathing room at the :48 mark. Kentucky went on to make all of its final six free throws, including two more by Poythress and two by Ulis to seal the win.

BY THE NUMBERS:

1st - Team, MSU, in the last 55 visitors to Rupp Arena to shoot better than 50 percent against UK. Texas A&M was the last team to accomplish the feat.

5 - Three-pointers by UK's Murray on 11 attempts.

9 - Straight wins for UK over MSU in the series.

30 - Consecutive wins by the Cats at Rupp Arena.

48 - Combined points off turnovers for the two teams -- 25 for UK, 23 for MSU.

QUOTABLE:

"The two guys that hurt us most were their two best players, Ulis and Murray. They are very, very good guards and about as good of a backcourt as you will find in the country." -- MSU coach Ben Howland.

UP NEXT:

The Cats return to action on Saturday at Auburn with a 4 p.m. ET tipoff on ESPN. Bruce Pearl's Tigers (7-8, 1-3 SEC) fell Tuesday night at Vanderbilt.


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