"Well, certainly, it was a hard-fought game," said Tubby Smith, "A very great basketball game. Great college basketball game. Certainly we were proud of our effort. Certainly want to compliment Mississippi State, they did a super job there. They've got a very talented team."
The game began as it ended, in a seesaw battle. State jumped out to a quick five point lead before Meeks, Randolph Morris and Joe Crawford went to work, spearheading a 15-5 run that gave the Cats a 15-10 lead. State would struggle back behind baskets by Charles Rhodes, Reginald Delk and Dietric Slater to reclaim the lead at 19-18. Morris went back to work and freshman Perry Stevenson provided spark off the bench culminating in a 13-5 run and a 31-24 Wildcat lead. Bulldog sensation Jamont Gordon scored five points in the final two minutes to shorten the Cats' lead to 34-31 at the half.
Gordon took charge early in the second half burning the Cats for seven straight points and capturing an early lead. For a while it looks as though State would blow Kentucky out of the gym. The Wildcats had no answer for Gordon, who seemed to be scoring at will. "He's a clutch player," said Tubby Smith, "very talented, athletic, strong. We couldn't stop him off the dribble all day, and that was our biggest challenge, not just with him, but especially in the second half. Anytime that somebody shoots 61% against you, a lot of lay-ups. You know, we really didn't take away his left like we should. But again, when you have a player of that caliber and that ability, he can do a lot of things. He'll hit that clutch three to tie the game up and go into overtime just proves his ability to do things. So they made some big plays. That was probably the biggest of the game. But he's very talented. Hard to stop."
Rhodes, Delk and Ben Hansbrough were providing additional firepower. Gordon hit two free throws at the 11:37 mark to put the Dogs up 57-43 and the Cats were looking very weary all of a sudden.
The Cats would begin a final charge behind its season veterans, Morris, Crawford, senior Bobby Perry and junior Ramel Bradley who had been having a very poor game to this point. Bradley connected on a three pointer to make the score 57-46. The Cats then offset four points by Gordon with two buckets by Crawford, one by Morris and two free throws by Perry. After Slater hit two free throws, Perry connected on a long range jumper followed by a pair of free throws by Morris and another bucket by Crawford and the Wildcats found themselves down by just two at 63-61 at the 6:37 mark.
Slater and Delk would connect on consecutive buckets to provide State a little breathing room but Crawford answered with a three and Meeks hit four straight free throws tie the game and then give Kentucky its first lead since the 18:16 mark of the half with just 3:38 remaining. The game would seesaw back and forth until a dramatic conclusion of regulation.
At 73-73 Joe Crawford took a turnaround off-balanced shot that came off the rim, but senior Sheray Thomas tipped it home giving the Cats a two-point lead with just :24 left. It its first opportunity to ice the game, Randolph Morris, playing on very tired legs, missed two free throws. State's Barry Stewart would miss a three point attempt however and Meeks grabbed the rebound, instantly fouled. Meek hit the first free throw extending the Cats' lead to three at 76-73. It was at that point that Meeks, 5-5 from the free throw line to that point, had an opportunity to ice the game before fate would intervene.
Just as the ball was being handed to Meeks, State called timeout from the bench and Sheray Thomas started to walk away from the line. The back official called a lane violation on Thomas despite the protests from coach Tubby Smith and several thousand Kentucky fans in attendance. The ball was awarded to Mississippi State and Jamont Gordon hit a game knotting shot at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
"Well, we probably wanted to get somebody off the lane. I said to Sheray, back up, Sheray, go back," said Smith, "At that time I didn't see the official passing the ball, so it was probably my fault for telling him to move off the lane. Again, I thought he was saying, "I got it," and my call. But I guess the rule is once it leaves his hand, you have to stay still.
In overtime Randolph Morris hit the opening bucket and the free throw from the foul that came with it. State would answer each response by the Cats. The critical play came from Hansbrough, who shook off his defender and hit a three pointer to give State an 81-79 lead. Still, Morris tipped in a missed shot to give Kentucky its final lead at 82-81. But Barry Stewart connected on a layup and was fouled by Morris to give State the final margin at 84-82.
"Well, you know, we were pretty gassed," said Tubby Smith, "but we scored right off the bat. We were energized, we played with a lot of energy. It takes a lot out of you when they score so easily. That was the tough thing. You want to get that bye because guys like Joe and Randolph had logged a lot of minutes in two days, and you could see they were really spent. But we got a tremendous effort out of some people, especially Jodie, Sheray, and Bobby. They stayed up. Ramel struggled some today, but otherwise I thought we had a good effort all the way around."
On UK's last possession Crawford too the ball to the basket and went up for a shot, trying to get the score or draw contact. The shot was blocked and no foul was called. "You know, I was just looking at the clock," Crawford said, "it was running down, I was looking to just drive and, you know, hopefully draw some contact and get a foul call. But they played great defense, and they recovered and got their hand on the ball." Randolph Morris posted career highs in points and rebounds with 29 and 15 respectively. Crawford added 20 and Meek contributed 14 points. The Wildcats shot just 38% from the field and 24% from three point range though they outrebounded State 43-40.
Jamont Gordon had 26 points and 11 rebounds for State.