By LARRY VAUGHT
When Kentucky needed a late game lift, Kentucky coach John Calipari just told De’Aaron Fox to be De’Aaron Fox.
The Kentucky freshman point guard scored seven straight points, including two drives and finishes that split the Mississippi State defense, to help UK escape with an 88-81 victory at Mississippi State after blowing most of an 18-point lead midway through the second half.
It was an emotional game that had four technical fouls — two on each team. In all, 52 total fouls were called. In Kentucky’s five SEC games, there have been 233 combined fouls called.
Fox was 8-for-15 from the field and had five assists and five rebounds to go with his 21 points. Derek Willis had all 13 of his points in the first half and was 5-for-6 from the field (he made three 3-pointers). He also had five rebounds.
Malik Monk had 14 points but was just 5-for-14 from the field with five turnovers in one of his worst overall performances of the season.
“Nobody should tell Malik to stop shooting. I’m definitely not. He’s a scorer and the shots will start falling,” Fox said.
Kentucky got a boost again from Wenyen Gabriel, who had 16 rebounds in UK’s win over Auburn Saturday. He had 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting, eight rebounds, three blocks, two assists, two drawn charges and one steal in 20 minutes. Gabriel made four three-pointers in his first 16 games of the season. He’s now made five in his last two.
“You don’t play great every night. Winning games like this when we don’t play well goes a long way,” Gabriel said.
One trend did continue for Kentucky as it shot 50.8 percent from the field. It is the 13th time this season and sixth game in a row that the Cats hit at least half their shots.