#16 Kentucky took control with a dominating third quarter and coasted on to an 83-60 victory over #14 Mississippi State. “It’s been a long time since we had people walking out of the Hump with a lot of time left,” Coach Vic Schaefer said. “And I wanted to go with them.”
The Bulldog coach didn’t have that luxury. He had to stay around as Kentucky ran-out the evening and left with their tenth-straight win in the series. The Wildcats are 18-6, 7-6 SEC.
Mississippi State walked off their own court 21-6, 8-5 SEC and out of second place in the league standings after consecutive losses. They now trail Texas A&M for that key spot with three SEC games left for everyone. A&M also has the head-to-head tiebreak.
With so much to play for, in both SEC and NCAA terms, falling so flat was “Embarrassing,” said guard Dominque Dillingham. “Disappointing. To go play like that in front of our home crowd and see them walking out is embarrassing.”
This was no comment on the other club though. Kentucky has had its ups and downs this season but showed up in Starkville primed. Or at least enough Wildcats did to offset slow starts from a couple of leaders and build a halftime lead of 37-30.
Then when guards Maci Morris and Makayla Epps took control of the third and fourth quarters respectively, Kentucky was able to send the crowd homewards.
“They really took the fight to us and obviously out-played us in every facet,” Schaefer said. “They were aggressive and got us on our heels from the start, and we never got off it.”
The Bulldogs certainly weren’t on their toes from tipoff. Other than a made-jumper by guard Victoria Vivians just 17 seconds in, this was the visitors’ night. Kentucky used a 13-1 outburst to set the tone, then managed to turn back every ensuing Bulldog surge. Mississippi State cut their deficit repeatedly to a single basket; at 16-14 of the first quarter, and three more times in the second period.
In every such two-point situation, a different Wildcat answered with points to stem any State momentum. But it was the third quarter that decided things. Specifically, Morris. The 6-0 freshman guard scored nine of her game-best 17 points in that period.
For Mississippi State frustration reigned on each end of the floor. Vivians, the SEC’s #2 scorer, missed her next five shots and soon was sitting. She was far from the only struggling starter though; that fivesome would go only 6-of-26 for the game. Vivians would play only 13 total minutes, going 3-of-11 from the field. Center Chinwe Okorie played 17 minutes with no points and three rebounds. Forward Ketara Chapel was lifted after four minutes. “I just felt we weren’t getting any effort,” Schaefer said.
“We weren’t playing hard, we weren’t getting stops on defense,” Dillingham said. “And we couldn’t score.”
Or most starters couldn’t. What kept State in first-half contention was the work of subs Breanna Richardson and Kayla Nevitt. They would end up shooting 7-of-10 combined for 13 and 12 points off the bench as MSU’s leaders.
The early-leavers did miss seeing bench-forward Lakeris Salter put some late-game life in things, hitting a pair of set-shot treys en route to eight points. Substitutes accounted for 45 of the team’s 60 points.
The Wildcat bench wasn’t bad either. After Morris’ 17 points and 16 from Epps, Kentucky had 13 points from sub-guard Taylor Murray and 12 by forward Alexis Jennings. Kentucky owned the glass by a 15-rebound margin and out-shot State 45% to 35%.
The strangest statistic of the evening was blocked shots. State rejected or deflected no less than 12 of Kentucky’s 67 field goal attempts, and only had one Bulldog shot swatted. And it had no bearing on the outcome.
“Hats off to Kentucky,” said Schaefer. “They came in and played like they had something to prove.” Kentucky is still the only SEC opponent Schaefer has yet to defeat at Mississippi State.
The loss was made more painful by the post-season stakes. The Bulldogs are certain of a NCAA berth of course. But even after last week’s loss at Texas A&M there remained hopes of hosting a regional round. Schaefer is not even entertaining the topic any more for now, interrupting Dillingham’s answer on that question.
“I don’t think we need to talk about hosting. That’s not in the equation now. We need to win a game.”
That being Sunday afternoon when Mississippi State visits Oxford. This is a rematch after the Bulldogs whipped Ole Miss by 28 points in January, and the Rebel coach promised that night that the second meeting would not be similar.