- Wednesday, February 1 2006 -
Kentucky - 81 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Mississippi State - 66 (Head Coach: Rick Stansbury) - [Unranked]
|Reginald Delk (*)||32||0||3||0||2||4||5||1||3||4||3||2||1||2||0||4|
|Richard Delk (*)||17||0||3||0||1||0||0||1||0||1||0||2||0||1||1||0|
Halftime Score: Kentucky 38, Mississippi State 29
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Arkansas 78 - 76|||||Florida 80 - 95|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Suggestion Box: Caller tip helps key UK
STARKVILLE, Miss. Ð Tubby Smith had just about exhausted every tactic he knew of to get his Kentucky team off to a better start. Turns out, all he needed was the advice of a fan who called into his radio show.
Taking a suggestion from a caller earlier in the week, Smith employed a 4-on-4 drill the Cats use in practice to get his team's juices flowing. The change worked, as UK bolted out to an 8-0 lead on its way to an 81-66 victory over a young Mississippi State team in Humphrey Coliseum.
"Coach just decided to do it right when we got out there on the floor," junior forward Bobby Perry said. "He didn't really say anything before. It's a drill we do in practice and obviously it worked.
"Coach is pretty superstitious so I'm sure we'll do it again."
Whether it was tongue in cheek or not, Smith wouldn't take credit for the new routine that seemed to jump start the Cats right from the opening tip. Joe Crawford buried back-to-back three-pointers to give UK the first eight points, leading to a State timeout just 1:19 into the game. Although State rallied to tie the score at eight, the Cats continued bombing away, hitting eight first half threes on their way to a season-high 13 in the game.
"We wanted more activity," Smith said. "Someone called in and suggested it and it makes you think as a coach. I've taken quite a few (suggestions). We've been trying to do a lot of things but it helped that the guys were making contact. That's what you do (pregame) in any sport."
Coincidence or not, the Cats pulled ahead early and never looked back, a far cry from the 18-point hole they dug themselves in a victory over Arkansas. After Crawford's hot start, senior guard Patrick Sparks got going, burying two three-pointers and drawing a goaltending call on Charles Rhodes that put UK ahead 19-12. Sparks continued his hot streak in the second half by scoring 10 of 12 points for the Cats at one point, including a punch-in-the-gut three from the corner when State had closed within 42-39.
"He really got into a groove knocking down shots," Mississippi State guard Jamall Edmondson said of Sparks. "You've got to know where he is at all times."
Sparks' 25 points tied his high water mark of the season, something he also popped in the West Virginia victory in late November. The senior hit 9-of-17 shots, including 5-of-10 from long range.
"I was just trying to be aggressive," Sparks said. "I got good looks early, really good lucks the whole game, started feeling it and pressed the issue."
As Smith has suggested over and over again this year, when Sparks gets it going from the outside the entire team plays with a different confidence level. It showed once again as Crawford added 14 points and five rebounds and Rajon Rondo flirted with a triple-double with nine points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
"Our kids seem to feed off Patrick," Smith said. "When he's making shots it gets everyone fired up."
The game was yet another study in the Cats' growing toughness and maturity, characteristics that have been missing at times this season. In UK's five-game winning streak the Cats have won three games in hostile environments by routinely turning back spirited upset bids. It is one of the things that has defined UK basketball the past few years.
There were numerous examples of that mental toughness in Starkville. Sparks' three from the corner that stopped State's 10-0 run early in the second half kicked off a stretch where the Cats scored on 11 of 13 possessions, including six straight, that gave UK a 68-52 edge. Moments later when the Bulldogs cut the lead to 10, senior guard Ravi Moss buried consecutive three-pointers off the Cats' drive-and-dish offense to bury State. What made the shots even more impressive was Moss missed the team's shootaround earlier in the day because of an illness.
"Ravi was unconscious," Perry said. "Those (shots) were cold-blooded. He didn't even come to shootaround and then he steps up and makes shots."
Moss shrugged off the praise, instead focusing on how the Cats have slowly started to gain some traction in the Southeastern Conference.
"Both those shots just happened to go down," Moss said. "We are getting better. It just goes to show you that we are getting tougher."
No caller can take credit for that.
Patrick Sparks drives past Bernard Rimmer and Jamall Edmondson
Jamall Edmondson (#5) shoots a free throw while Ramel Bradley (#3) looks on