No. 2 Kentucky 75, Mississippi St. 74
John Calipari only had questions once he and his Kentucky
Wildcats finished celebrating their Southeastern Conference
“How did we win this game? How did we go to overtime? I don’t
know,” Calipari said.
Credit his fantastic freshmen who scored to get them to overtime
and then won the game, even if they celebrated a little
John Wall scored seven of his 17 points in overtime, and No. 2
Kentucky rallied from five down with 2:28 left in regulation to
beat Mississippi State 75-74 on Sunday. The Wildcats rewarded their
faithful by adding their 26th SEC tournament championship and an
automatic berth to the NCAA tournament to their 44th regular season
Two down, one to go?
That might be why the Wildcats ran around the arena waving and
yelling with their fans without ever cutting down a net.
“We will cut down nets,” Calipari promised. “It’s just not
the SEC tournament nets. Maybe hopefully in the NCAA tournament
somewhere, but I think these guys they have a big picture. … This
is a game we should’ve lost.”
The Wildcats (32-2) blew earlier chances with freshmen Wall and
DeMarcus Cousins missing free throws and making youthful mistakes.
But they came through over the defending tourney champs as Cousins’
layup off Wall’s missed 3-pointer from the right corner beat the
regulation buzzer to give them some extra time.
Wall did miscalculate. He thought the Wildcats had won on
Cousins’ shot and tackled the 6-foot-11, 270-pound forward to the
court near the press table, celebrating a wee bit early.
“I was so excited,” Wall said. “When I went to the bench,
Coach said, `It’s overtime.’ I was like, `Whew.’ I was tired. I
knew we fought hard. I didn’t play a great game, but I did a great
job of leading my team.”
Cousins knew he had forced overtime even if his teammates didn’t
as they followed Wall’s lead and swarmed him on the floor.
“So I got kind of beat up at the end thanks to John,” Cousins
said with a smile.
Now Kentucky can celebrate its first SEC tournament title since
2004, ending an interminable drought for their fans who now expect
another national championship.
Mississippi State (23-11) lost for the second time to the
Wildcats this season after leading late in regulation. The Bulldogs
blew a seven-point lead on Feb. 16, and lost that game 81-75 in
“Any person watching that game, how could you not be just
absolutely amazed what these guys did against one of the most
talented teams in the country?” Mississippi State coach Rick
Stansbury said. “We had our opportunities to close it out. That’s
part of the game. … And I can promise you, there’s not one ounce
left in them.”
This time, the Bulldogs led 62-57 on Ravern Johnson’s 3 with
2:28 left. That set up a furious finish to a game that had gone
back and forth from the opening tip.
Barry Stewart, a senior from nearby Shelbyville, Tenn., hit both
free throws with 8.2 seconds left to push the Bulldogs ‘lead to
64-61. He fouled out, sending Eric Bledsoe to the free throw line.
He hit the first, missed the second and Wall’s 3-point attempt was
well short. But Cousins put it back, getting the shot off before
Officials immediately signaled that the shot counted, and Wall
and Cousins celebrated with their teammates piling on as if they
had won. They finally went back to the bench while officials
reviewed the play.
“Time never ran out seemed like,” Stewart said of the end of
regulation. “Longest 4.9 seconds of my life.”
As the Bulldogs slumped and Kentucky celebrated, overtime seemed
destined to go the Wildcats’ way. Even then, it wasn’t easy.
Bledsoe’s jumper put them ahead to stay at 71-69 with 1:20 left,
and Wall’s lone 3-pointer of the game pushed it to 74-71 with 26
seconds remaining. Cousins hit two free throws with 5 seconds to go
that wound up the winning margin as Riley Benock hit a 3 just
before the buzzer to start the celebration fans had been waiting
for since Calipari was hired last spring.
It was the first time since 1952 that the SEC championship had
been decided by one point.
Bledsoe, another member of Calipari’s first recruiting class,
finished with 18 points. Patrick Patterson had 15, and Cousins
finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Johnson scored 20 points to lead Mississippi State. Jarvis
Varnado added 18 and spent much of the overtime upset at the lack
of foul calls as he tried to drive to the basket. Dee Bost had 16
points, and Stewart added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
“That’s what you’re going to get when you play against
Kentucky,” Varnado said. “They’ve got some big guys (Daniel)
Orton, Patterson and Cousins.”
Mississippi State came to this event for a second straight year
knowing the best – and likely only – way of earning an NCAA
tournament trip was by winning the automatic berth. The Bulldogs
did it last year by winning four games in four days, and this
season they had a bye to keep them even more rested for the
Kentucky leads the series 86-20 and the Wildcats had been even
better in this tournament, going 8-2 with the Bulldogs’ biggest win
back in the 1996 finals when they beat Kentucky for their first SEC
The Bulldogs blew a chance to beat Kentucky in Starkville on
Feb. 16. The Bulldogs led by seven with 3 minutes left only to be
taken into overtime when Wall scored five of his 18 points to rally
the Wildcats to an 81-75 win. That game was marred near the end
when upset fans threw cups filled with ice and water bottles onto