by Paul Jordan
The game played out like a surreal version of “The Alamo”. The Mississippi State Bulldogs, down two starters, tried desperately to defend their home against the #2 ranked Kentucky Wildcats. And for thirty seven minutes,the Bulldogs valiantly defended “The Hump” and were on the verge of a bracket busting upset, leading 67-60. The upset that Jimmy Dykes had been rooting for all game was within reach … but then Kentucky happened.
DeAndre Liggins nailed a 3-pointer. Patterson got a block, and Wall made a nice pass for a Bledsoe layup. DeMarcus Cousins blocked a shot on the other end, and Patterson nailed a jumper from the side and UK had tied the game at 67. And in case you are not counting, that was major crunch time contributions from all fivc players on the court as UK stormed back and forced overtime. When the extra period started, the Bulldogs lost their third starter, Barry Stewart, to fouls and the Wildcats took no prisoners in storming the Hump and winning 81-75.
For their credit, the Bulldogs fought UK as fiercely as any team has this season. Already a team with little depth, it appeared the Bulldogs were doomed from the start when Ravern Johnson was suspended for the game for “conduct detrimental to the team”. Never the less, the Bulldogs fought valiantly and had the game where they wanted it, down just three at the half 32-29.
The Bulldogs came out on fire in the second half, getting two treys from Barry Stewart and one from Kodi Augustus in the opening 3:36 of the second half as the Bulldogs bolted to a 42-38 lead in front of the largest crowd ever to fill the Hump. It should also be noted that the Bulldog’s all world center, Jarvis Varnado committed two fouls in a span of five seconds and sat for most of the second half with four fouls. Undaunted, the Bulldogs answered every Kentucky basket and fought the Cats tooth and nail.
It appeared that Kentucky had put the Bulldogs down when DeMarcus Cousins grabbed a missed Bledsoe shot and put it back for a 56-51 UK lead with around nine minutes remaining. But then, as in the Alamo, the undermanned Bulldogs went on a 16-4 streak before Kentucky began their late game heroics.
And this is where this Kentucky team has matured during the course of this season. In the midst of being beat down 16-4 in front of an insane crowd, this Wildcat team reached deep inside themselves and asserted themselves to send the game to overtime. And that, is what champions are made out of. Both Syracuse and Villanova, trendy picks to be in the Final Four, lost on previous days to teams worse than Mississippi State – Louisville and Connecticut. And with those losses by Nova and the Cuse, it appears that Kentucky has almost locked in that number one seed. Yes, in February.
And the most important thing? This was a team victory for the Cats. Patrick Patterson made a very welcome return in leading UK with 19 points, 10 boards, and 3 blocks. DeMarcus Cousins had 19 points and 14 boards. Together, they made Jarvis Varnado obsolete, holding him to 10 points, 5 rebounds and just 2 blocks. John Wall is making a strong push for POY honors with 18 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. And as Corey Price reports, this is the first time UK has had three players get double doubles in a game since 11/26/1977.
But it does not stop with “the stars”. DeAndre Liggins is making a case to start. He was just 1-5 on his trey attempts, but he does so much more when he is in the game as he had 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks. Daniel Orton swatted a couple of shots and Darius Miller made a welcome return as well with 9 points and 2 blocks. All in all, it was a good night for redemption as Patrick Patterson had a good game against the Bulldogs and DeMarcus Cousins gets to talk a lot of smack to his new Starkville phone buddies. If they have the nerve to call him.
For complete game stats, go here.