- Sunday, February 23 2003 -
Mississippi State - 62 (Head Coach: Rick Stansbury) - [Ranked 19th by AP]
Kentucky - 70 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 2nd by AP]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 38, Mississippi State 28
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|Arkansas 66 - 50|||||Tennessee 80 - 68|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats hang on for 16th straight victory
On a day when Kentucky welcomed back over 100 former lettermen, the Cats had to sweat out a late comeback bid to outlast Mississippi State 70-62 before 23,203 fans at Rupp Arena.
The victory ran UK's winning streak to a nation's best 16 games, and left the Cats (21-3, 12-0 SEC) just four victories shy of completing an unbeaten Southeastern Conference slate.
"We've come a long, long way," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "We were not picked to do much at all this year. That's fine. But we've learned and grown every practice."
Early on, it looked as if UK was going to blow State out of Rupp just like it had Florida and Georgia before, using a 15-2 spurt to go up 19 points at 32-13. But the Bulldogs chipped away at the Cat lead, then Timmy Bowers hit a running three-pointer at the buzzer to pull State within 38-28 at halftime.
Mississippi State was able to stay in the game despite UK hitting over 60 percent and having eight players score in the half mainly because the Cats turned the ball over 10 times, far more than they are accustomed to doing.
It looked like UK got itself squared away at halftime, running off a 10-2 spurt behind two Keith Bogans threes midway through the second half. After Gerald Fitch drove the lane and dished to Marquis Estill for a dunk to give UK a 16-point lead with 10 minutes left, the Cats appeared in position to cruise to another Rupp blowout.
But much like last season, when the Cats blew an identical 16-point lead with less than 15 minutes to play, State came storming back behind All-SEC center Mario Austin. The junior scored 12 consecutive points for the Bulldogs over a six-minute stretch as State cut the UK lead to 60-55.
Although UK couldn't score, making just one field goal in just over a seven-minute stretch, State had two turnovers and two missed chances to cut the lead to fewer than five.
"There were things down the stretch we'd like to have done better," Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury said. "It was 60-55, and on three straight trips we turn it over."
During that same span, UK missed five of six free throws to keep State within reach, until finally, UK sealed the deal by going 5-of-6 from the charity stripe in the last minute.
"I was a little concerned," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "I felt like we were in control, but we were feeling a little bit of the pressure and the kids started looking for answers. At the free throw line is where we let them back in the game."
Even though the near comeback by the Bulldogs could be cause for concern, UK did control play for much of the game. The Cats also dominated the glass, beating the nation's No. 2 rebounding team 37-25 on the boards. It also shot 53.8 percent against a team allowing opponents to shoot just 41.3 percent in conference play.
"What's happening, as you move along and the win streak continues, our job is to make sure the players stay focused," Smith said. "We can learn a lot from this game."
Bogans led UK with 18 points and seven rebounds, while Cliff Hawkins added 14 points and Estill 10 points and eight rebounds. Austin came on strong late to finish with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Bowers
Marquis Estill scores over Branden Vincent