December 2013 has turned into January 2014. Another Camp Cal has concluded which means another SEC regular season slate is upon us. Kentucky opened conference play at home as they welcomed in the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
At the outset, UK was a tad on the listless side. Were they rested or rusted? Yes they were.
Given the way they finished the second half against Louisville, arguably one of their best halves of the year to date, it was almost sad seeing the extended break arrive.
Kentucky dug their early game hole for themselves, which is becoming a little more customary than it probably should be even with a team as young as this.
The Bulldogs raced out to an early 14-4 lead. It took a little more than 12 minutes of actual game time before Kentucky took their first lead at 21-20. State didn’t cave at that point. They scrapped, battled and outplayed UK and went into the locker room with a 40-37 lead.
Yep, they averaged a point a minute.
The second half was a different story. Kentucky tightened the screws defensively. Mississippi State. went from 40 points on 44.1% shooting in the first half down to 23 points on 34.8% shooting in the final 20 minutes.
Yep, they barely eked out a little more than a half a point a minute.
Kentucky showed us what they are capable of and what they are striving to mold themselves into. James Young was strong. He’s been fairly consistent all year but he really brought it tonight with 26 points which tied his career high. He had 10 rebounds, 10! It doesn’t matter how small the opponents’ back court is, ten boards from your shooting guard/small forward is strong. He also chipped in five assists, two steals and a block.
Young had more rebounds than both of the Harrison twins and Willie Cauley-Stein combined. Kentucky utilized its obvious size advantage and hammered State on the glass (44-28). Seventeen of those came on the offensive end. This allowed them to get out and run and ratchet up the tempo and overwhelm Mississippi State.
Dominique Hawkins continues to bring the energy that you hope spreads to all of the guys. Dakari Johnson played well too, hitting all four of his shots from the field in eight minutes of action. Alex Poythress put on a nice aerial display including a nice reverse baseline alley-oop.
All of the production from various sources is and will continue to be a welcome sign as Julius Randle continues to adjust the double and triple teams he will continually face. He made some quick passes out of them to open teammates. There were a couple forced shots but you can see he’s learning.
Up next, the Cats’ second true road game of the season. It’s a trip to Memorial Gym in Nashville to tangle with Vanderbilt (8-5, 0-1 SEC) on Saturday. Tip-off is at 3:30 ET. The Commodores lost 68-63 at Alabama in their SEC opener on Jan. 7. Records rarely matter down there though. More often than not it’s always tough getting out of there with a win.