Mississippi St.-Kentucky Preview
Kentucky is still very much a work in progress. Getting consistently strong efforts from Alex Poythress would certainly help the process along.
The 14th-ranked Wildcats look for a more efficient performance when they try to beat visiting Mississippi State for the ninth straight time Tuesday night.
Poythress bounced back from one of his least-productive games of the season with an offensive outburst, scoring a career-high 25 points in Saturday's 77-61 win at Alabama.
He went 8 of 10 from the field in a much more aggressive effort after attempting three shots and scoring four points in last Tuesday's 85-67 loss at LSU.
''You just have to get that bad taste out of everybody's mouth when you have a difficult game,'' Poythress said.
The Wildcats (12-3, 2-1 SEC) led by 16 late in the first half but saw the lead dwindle to four early in the second.
Freshman Jamal Murray's 21 points helped Kentucky hold on.
"When we are all being our best version, we're really good," coach John Calipari said. "When we're not and we have one or two no-shows, anyone in the country can beat us."
Kentucky hasn't had much trouble with the Bulldogs (7-7, 0-2) in recent years, winning the last eight matchups and taking the past four by an average of 20.3 points. Mississippi State's last victory in the series came Feb. 3, 2009 at Rupp Arena.
Pulling another upset of the Wildcats isn't likely if the Bulldogs play like they did in an 82-68 loss at Arkansas on Saturday. Mississippi State shot 37.5 percent from the field for their second-worst mark of the season.
It was a vastly different performance from Wednesday's 61-60 home loss to then-No. 21 Texas A&M, when the Bulldogs led in the final minute.
Mississippi State has lost all three true road games.
"To win on the road, you have to play great defense. You also have to execute offensively," coach Ben Howland said. "There's not a tougher place to play in the country than the University of Kentucky. Their defense creates a lot of offense for them. They do a lot of ball pressure."
Kentucky's biggest task on defense will be to slow Bulldogs forward Gavin Ware, who's averaging 17.2 points. He's scored in double figures in each contest and is shooting an SEC-best 65.3 percent.
"Gavin Ware, of the teams I've seen so far - and I haven't seen everyone - is one of the most improved players in this league," assistant coach John Robic said. "We have to be ready for a hungry team coming in here."
Robic met with the media on the same day reports stated that Calipari is seeking at least $120 million guaranteed to coach in the NBA. Rumors are circulating that Brooklyn could pursue Calipari for its vacancy, but he denied having discussions with any team.