Dee Bost provided a game-high 21 points and seven assists but was contained by Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the second half Photo by: Courtesy of MSU athletics
February 22, 2012 3:30:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- What we learned?
The defensive switch of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on Dee Bost in the University of Kentucky men;s basketball halftime locker room was the major impact factor in the top-ranked Wildcats walking out of Humphrey Coliseum with a 73-64 victory.
Similarly to how they escaped with a 2010 victory in Starkville, Kentucky, who now has a 19-game winning streak, was able to close another late deficit by finishing the contest on a 20-4 run. Two years ago in the same building, Kentucky, ranked No. 2 at that time, came back from seven down to force overtime and eventually another road victory over an MSU team on the bubble for the NCAA tournament.
Why was the move allowed to happen? With 4:53left in the first half, the Mississippi State University men's basketball program had the momentum in a energy-infused Humphrey
Coliseum and then everybody realized what the shift that was about to take place literally and figuratively for both teams. MSU freshman wing player Rodney Hood was laying stomach down on the floor in agonizing pain and unable to get up with what would be be later announced by school officials as a left knee bruise. The 2011 Gatorade player of the year in the state of Mississippi was forced to be helped to the locker room by MSU trainer Scott Johnson and suddenly the Bulldogs lead didn't seem as daunting to either side.
Hood, who was forced to use crutches to get around after the game after having his left leg immobilized for precautionary purposes, is expected to undergo medical tests today but the significance of the injury and his status will be determined later this week.
From that moment on, Kentucky's McDonald's All-American from New Jersey exerted his will on both offense and defense. Kidd-Gilchrist had 12 second-half points and proved he had the ability to hold Bost to just one field goal in the final 20 minutes of play.
Bost simply struggled to find open lanes to drive and uncontested looks from the perimeter with the longer defender on him similarly to his struggles in a 75-68 loss at the University of Mississippi when a taller Terrance Henry was matched up with him face-to-face.
On the offensive end, Kidd-Gilchrist was able to use his physical advantage on the undersized combination of guards Brian Bryant and Jalen Steele for buckets near the lane and bucket.
"(The injury to Hood) is huge because we have to play a guy that physically can't guard Gilchrist and just hasn't played that (small forward) spot," Stansbury said.
With 1:27 left in the game and his team down 68-64, this was the critical moment Mississippi State's defense needed a stop. The Bulldogs (19-9, 6-7 in Southeastern Conference play) sank back in a 2-3 zone defense and watched Kentucky senior guard Darius Miller calmly drain an open three-point shot to ensure a fourth straight victory over MSU.
In a way, Mississippi State had no choice but to try something that Stansbury happily said after his team's fourth-straight loss was effective when an undersized and undermanned squad.
"We kept them at bay with the zone," MSU 14-year head coach said. "We had to change our defense some (and) it worked sometimes but sometimes we got beat."
In a way, the sequence defined what has been a downward spiral in the Bulldogs first four-game losing streak since 2006. MSU was unable to close out a tight game and then gave up a late game-winning basket because of depth concerns and fears over defensive breakdowns.
"You just have to pick your poison," Stansbury said of the top-ranked Wildcats attack. "As I have said, they do not beat you shooting the ball consistently. They beat you dunking around that rim."
However, it was the perimeter shots - three of them by Miller in the last eight minutes of the game that turned the entire complexion of Tuesday night's tilt at Humphrey Coliseum.
"I just knew we were all going to have to make plays," Miller said.
Chances are Miller knew this because the rest of his Kentucky (27-1, 13-0) teammates were being offensively productive and the 6-foot-8 senior finally found his shot off the Wildcats bench for 12 second-half points.
"Darius Miller is the fiber that holds that team together," Stansbury said. "He is the key to them and was the total difference in the game tonight."
His coach even took him out of the contest because he refused to shoot the basketball. A clear no-no when you come to Starkville Tuesday night converting 43.2 percent from beyond the three-point arc.
"I mean...let me just say this - my coach never had to take me out because I didn't shoot," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "He passed up a shot and I said 'you're out'. Then he went back in and he's bombing balls in. You're the guy to this team. They count on you to make these shots."
What we heard?
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury:
"A huge, huge, huge blow for us. They wasn't going to cancel the game but when we lose one of our key guys Rodney Hood, with our lack of depth was huge for us. Absolutely huge for us."
Kentucky coach John Calipari on telling Kidd-Gilchrist he had to defend Dee Bost:
"I said you got him and I said 'i got it'."
Mississippi State senior guard Dee Bost:
"(Kidd-Gilchrist) was long and athletic so that kind of bothered me a little bit. At the same time, we got the ball where we wanted it but we just didn't knock down shots."
Kentucky freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist:
"I love that challenge right there. I love playing defense and that's just my game right there."
What's next?: at Alabama (17-9, 6-6), 5 p.m., Saturday (ESPN)
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
3. They Were All Very Merry at Pfaff's BOOK REVIEWS