Kentucky guard Cason Wallace (22) attempts a layup as Mississippi State forward Tolu Smith (1) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Kentucky Rattles NET Rankings With Win Over Mississippi State

The Kentucky Wildcats (16-9, 7-5 SEC) hit the road to Starkville, Mississippi, to take on Mississippi State (17-9, 5-8 SEC) Wednesday night.

With NCAA Tournament hopes on the line, the Wildcats secured a critical 71-68 win over the Bulldogs. Oscar Tshiebwe‘s double-double led the cats in an effort backed by Jacob Toppin‘s 16 points.

Win the Glass, Win the Game

Simply put: This game was defined on the glass. Kentucky dominated the visiting Bulldogs 38-22 on the boards. More significantly, the Cats collected 18 offensive rebounds against the home team’s 15 defensive rebounds,  a 54.5 percent rate in offensive rebounding for the Cats. Tshiebwe’s 11 rebounds, seven on the offensive glass, led both teams in the stat.

The collective board work afforded the Wildcats seven extra field goal attempts against a struggling Mississippi State defense.  So while the Bulldogs shot a higher percentage (50% to 45.5%), the Cats made 25 field goals compared to State’s 24.

No Claws for the Kentucky Defense

The Cats had a strong offensive start, which persisted for the first half. But Kentucky’s defense was once more the problem for John Calipari’s squad. While the Cats shot 52% from the field, made four three-pointers, and out-rebounded the Bulldogs by two, they also gave up a 50% field goal percentage and five three-pointers to one of the worst offensive teams in the nation. This resulted in a tight 36-35 lead heading into halftime.

After the break, Kentucky started off sluggish but immediately picked itself up. The defense dug in, and the rebounding advantage persisted. With just eight and a half minutes left, they appeared to be pulling away, leading by as many as thirteen points. But, a Mississippi State run cut the advantage to three points with four minutes left. Despite the late push from the Bulldogs, Kentucky was able to hold on for a massive road victory to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

A Quad 1 Win at Last

After losing at Georgia on Saturday, Kentucky came into Wednesday night’s bubble battle with a 1-7 record against Quad 1 opponents in the NCAA NET rankings. Kentucky couldn’t afford to let Wednesday’s Quad 1 opportunity slip away. And for the most part, it played like a team with its back to the wall. Down the stretch, Kentucky refused to wilt, stepping to the foul line and making six of its seven free throws in the final eight seconds.

Up Next

Saturday will bring another Quad 1 opportunity when Tennessee visits Rupp Arena anxious to avenge its 63-56 loss to Kentucky at home back on Jan. 14.

The Vols were No. 3 in the NET before knocking off No. 1-ranked Alabama 68-59 in Knoxville on Wednesday night. No doubt Tennessee will be anxious to avenge its 63-56 loss to Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena back on Jan. 14.

About Rafael De Los Santos

Junior studying Journalism - Sports & Media at the University of Florida

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