When people start talking about the reasons why Kentucky might have trouble when it comes time for the NCAA tournament, the conversation inevitably shifts towards their youth and immaturity, as well as their lack of poise and leadership as a result. I’ll admit that those arguments aren’t completly without logic, but tonight’s win will go a long way in silencing that type of critic. This young, immature group of Wildcats went into Starkville tonight, in front of an MSU record-crowd of 10,788 (Ha!) and pulled out one of their three best victories of the season. Everything seemed to be going Mississippi State’s way. They were hitting everything. They were getting all the breaks. Dee Bost (does anyone else think that’s a weird name?) was playing out of his mind. All the while, Kentucky hung tight. The lead changed hands five times in the second-half, and even when the Cats were down seven with three minutes left to play, they found a way to hit shots and make stops when they had to–always a sign of a great (and mature) team.
– Nobody’s tougher on John Wall than me. I’ve been known to get a little too caught up in his turnovers and shot selection from time to time, but not even his staunchest critic could find fault with his line tonight: 18 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks, and just 3 turnovers in 44 minutes of action. That’s LeBron-esque, my friends. When Wall plays the way he played tonight–scoring, distributing, making timely plays, facilitating the offense in general–it’s hard to imagine anyone in the country hanging with us.
– As for the other freshman on our team who’s also in the National Player of the Year discussion, DeMarcus Cousins rebounded from his 5-point performance against Tennessee with 19 points, 14 rebounds (7 offensive), 3 assists, and a block in just 30 minutes of action tonight. His passing out of Mississippi State’s double-teams was exceptional, as was his composure given the environment and all the cell phone stuff leading up to the game. Cousins continues to blow my mind. I’m pretty sure the NBA scouts feel the same way. It’s not at all a stretch right now to say that Wall and Cousins might be the first two players taken in this June’s draft.
– Patrick Patterson returned to form tonight with a 19-point, 10-rebound, 3-block line that we’ve come to expect from him over the past 2 1/2 seasons. His ten rebounds tonight were the first time he’s reached double digits in that category since the Long Beach State game, way back on December 23rd. Patterson also knocked down a trey for the sixth consecutive game, and continued to shoot the ball well from the foul line. He’s now 14-of-16 from the stripe over his last six games.
– Darius Miller! He finished with nine points tonight to go along with a couple of rebounds and blocks in a game where his offensive production was desperately needed. Also of note, Miller knocked down his first trey since the Ole Miss game (back on February 2nd), and went to the foul line for the first time since the Georgia game, which for those of you without eidetic memories, was all the way back on January 9th. Of 2009. Just joking. But still, a month and a half without a trip to the foul line should be impossible for a guy labeled as a slasher.
– As a team, Kentucky out-rebounded the Bulldogs 52-35, blocked 12 shots to their 2, and shot 31 free throws to their 16. The rebounds and blocked shots show that Kentucky is doing a good job of throwing around its size, and the free throw advantage means a couple of things: Kentucky stayed aggressive offensively; Mississippi State did not. The Bulldogs were content to make their living from the perimeter (they took 35 treys and connected on 10), which, when you’re hitting your shots seems like a great idea, but when you’re not makes you look foolish.