February 8, 2014 7:03:07 PM
STARKVILLE -- The depth and size issue couldn't overcome a healthy effort from Mississippi State at home against nationally ranked Kentucky.
After being more than displeased with the effort in a 20-point loss at Texas A&M Wednesday night, MSU coach Rick Ray chalked up a 69-59 defeat Saturday to a lack of big bodies and physicality. The fifth straight loss for MSU (13-10, 3-7 in Southeastern Conference) also marked a continuing of the winless streak for Ray in February to 11 straight contests.
"I was really pleased with how we competed," Ray said. "We're just not where we need to be as far as our bodies and a offensive skill level to not play with that kind of effort every single time we step on the court."
Every time MSU would build any momentum and bring the Humphrey Coliseum crowd to its feet, Kentucky (18-5, 8-2 in SEC) simply threw the basketball into the post to future NBA Lottery pick Julius Randle. The highly skilled 6-foot-9 forward ended the afternoon with a game-high 16 points and seven rebounds.
"It's a big responsibility when you have to deal with a team like Kentucky because they have big, athletic guys that can make moves in the post," MSU sophomore center Gavin Ware said.
Kentucky coach John Calipari was the coach that actually sounded like his team lost Saturday by being frank and honest with his assessment of what he considered a lackluster effort by his talented group of youngsters. Kentucky got a 6 of 18 performance from the Harrison twins and a six point effort from Alex Poythress.
"I thought everybody just went through the motions today and I just don't get it," Calipari said. "I don't think our guys grew in this game but because we had enough depth, we were able to win. They're 18 and 19-year olds and their whole lives they were told they poop ice cream."
The only shining light for the Wildcats, who was projected as a four-seed by ESPN.com analyst Joe Lunardi Saturday, was the play of seldom used senior guard Jon Hood. The fifth-year senior, who had just 23 total minutes of playing time this season before Saturday, had 13 minutes that included solid defense and a three-point shot. The Wildcats were plus-13 as a team when Hood was the on the floor as compared to minus-4 when the reserve guard was watching on the bench.
"I just tried to come in and bring enthusiasm," Hood said. "When coach came down and told me to go in, I understand what that means. You go in, play hard and bring enthusiasm and you're supposed to do as a bench guy is bring hustle plays."
Ray admitted after the loss Saturday Hood, a former Mr. Basketball selection out of high school in Madisonville, Ky., wasn't even in the Bulldogs pre-game scouting report because of his lack of action.
Calipari is now 8-0 against MSU in his coaching career. The fifth-year Wildcats coach said he tried to warn his club about MSU's 11-2 record in Starkville coming into Saturday but couldn't avoid a battle with the host Bulldogs.
"Don't take away from what Mississippi State did here today and what Rick got them to do," Calipari said. "Rick Ray gave them a chance to win today and that's all you can ask of him to do. They had their chance."
MSU freshman point guard IJ Ready missed his seventh game of the season because of injury or illness Saturday as the 5-foot-11 speedster was hampered with a fever. Ray said Ready's symptoms started when the team got back from its 72-52 loss at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.
Without the size and athleticism to handle Kentucky's frontline, MSU gave up 13 offensive rebounds and its foul-plagued forward of Ware and Colin Borchert only grabbed two offensive put backs. The Wildcats came to Starkville ranked first nationally with a offensive rebounding percentage of .432 and was one bucket short of its second-chance point average of 16.
"The difference for me is they shot 48 percent in the second half but if you eliminate the second chance opportunities they got off offensive rebounds or loose balls, then our defensive field goal percentage is pretty good," Ray said. "We just got to make sure we get all those loose balls and then we could get in transition."
Saturday's loss marked only the fourth time this season Kentucky has scored under 70 points and it was just another inconsistent offensive effort that led to MSU's demise.
MSU shot just 1 of 8 shots from three-point range but the Bulldogs were able to find chances at the charity stripe by going 22 of 28 shots from the foul line. With just seven scholarship players on the floor, Ray said he likes the improve he saw in terms of effort as MSU approaches a home game Wednesday at 8 p.m. versus Georgia.
"I'm not satisfied with the loss or have the misconception that I look at this as a moral victory," Ray said. "I want my team to play hard, compete and play hard. We got to find a way every time we step on the court to play with this competitive spirit."
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.
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