Kentucky-Mississippi St. Preview
Kentucky continues to overwhelm opponents as it chases college basketball's first undefeated season in 39 years.
The top-ranked Wildcats head to Mississippi State on Wednesday night to face a Bulldogs team that might not stand much of a chance if it can't reduce its turnovers.
Kentucky (27-0, 14-0 SEC) has matched the 1995-96 team's school-record 27-game winning streak, also tying the longest run by a John Calipari-coached team. He won 27 in a row in 2008-09 at Memphis.
A weak season for the conference, which includes five teams with .500 or worse records overall, has left the Wildcats mostly unchallenged. Their last three wins have been by a combined 87 points with an average plus-15.3 rebounding margin. Kentucky's plus-22.1 scoring differential is the highest since Duke's 24.7 mark in 1998-99.
The Wildcats still have to win 13 more games, including this one, to become the first unbeaten team since Indiana went 32-0 in 1976.
"I think because of the character and chemistry, I think that they certainly can," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said after Kentucky's 110-75 win over the Tigers on Saturday.
The Wildcats shot 64.7 percent while recording their most points since a 115-87 victory against Tennessee State on Dec. 30, 2002. Karl-Anthony Towns had 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting and 10 rebounds for his third double-double in six games. He has shot 66.7 percent over his last seven games, though he's shooting 47.2 percent on the road compared to 59.6 at home.
Andrew Harrison had nine of Kentucky's 25 assists on 44 baskets. The Wildcats are recording assists on 59.0 percent of made shots, their highest mark since doing so on 60.8 percent in 2008-09.
Calipari has been effusive in his praise of his team's unselfishness. His nine-man rotation includes eight former McDonald's All-Americans.
"Wait a minute, why aren't they playing for themselves? They are playing for each other," he said. "They all got each other's back, and the reason they can do that is because they know we have their back individually. I got you; just be about each other. And it's been fun."
Kentucky has won seven straight meetings with Mississippi State, including a 69-59 victory in Starkville last season.
The Bulldogs (12-15, 5-9) are averaging a league-high 15.1 turnovers and committed 23 in Saturday's 65-61 loss to No. 18 Arkansas.
"Kentucky is obviously a daunting task," coach Rick Ray said. "I look at some of their defensive statistics and they are really elite in that regard. In order for us to have any kind of success against a team like Kentucky or anybody in the SEC, we've got to secure the basketball."
Mississippi State has developed a trend of wilting late. It went 7:47 without a field goal at one point and was outscored 33-28 in the second half by the Razorbacks. It was also outscored 44-33 over the final 20 minutes of a 71-65 loss to Mississippi on Feb. 19.
Craig Sword has averaged 17.6 points over his last eight contests after previously averaging 5.6.
The Bulldogs have dropped 14 straight against top-five teams, including seven versus Kentucky, since a 54-45 win over then-No. 5 Oklahoma on Dec. 28, 2002.
Willie Cauley-Stein is 15 of 17 from the field in three meetings with Mississippi State.