By RICHARD CHEEKS
On Tuesday evening, the Cats built an impressive 18-point lead, 64-46, when Malik Monk dunked the ball with 12:19 remaining in the game. An 18 point lead less than 8 minutes into the second half after building a 12 point halftime lead signaled the Cats were on their way to another impressive 20+ point road win at Mississippi State. However, after Malik Monk threw the ball through the rim, he hung on the rim, and the officials made the call. Technical Foul-Malik Monk.
Coach Calipari had seen this set of circumstances before, and he was not a happy man, pulling Malik Monk from the game immediately and getting in his face. Another teaching moment? Let’s hope so.
This rather innocuous event turned the entire momentum of the game from a Kentucky rout to a barn burner. Over the next 4 ½ minutes, Mississippi State trimmed the lead to only 3 points, 69-66, and but for Weatherspoon’s miss on his second free throw, the margin would have been only 2 points with 7:49 remaining in the game. Weatherspoon’s free throw completed a Bulldogs run of 20-5.
Wenyen Gabriel made a 3 pointer to stem the tide and give the Cats a 6 point (2 possession) working margin, and the Cats traded baskets with the Bulldogs for the last 7 ½ minutes to a 7 point, 88-81, Kentucky win. The Cats escaped Starkville with their undefeated SEC record intact at 6-0, and Kentucky remained only 1 of 3 SEC teams who remained without a conference loss.
The other two, South Carolina and Florida, met on Wednesday night in Columbia, South Carolina. Only one of them could remain unbeaten leading into Saturday’s games, and the outcome of this game carries great significance to the Cats’ aim on another SEC regular season SEC championship.
The Cats face South Carolina once, this Saturday, at Rupp, and the Cats face the Gators twice, once in Gainesville, and once at Rupp. South Carolina has road trips to Kentucky (Saturday) and Gainesville remaining on their schedule. These five games will determine which of these three will end the season at the top of the SEC.
South Carolina beat the Gators by 4 on Wednesday, and on Saturday the last two unbeaten SEC teams will face off at Rupp Arena. By 8 pm, Saturday night, the SEC will have only 1 unbeaten team with a leg up on the other two.
SOUTH CAROLINA enters the game with a 15-3; 5-0 record. The Gamecocks lost games to at #54 Seton Hall by 3, at #70 Memphis by 16, and to #33 Clemson by 2 at home. The Gamecocks’ most impressive wins this season have been over #45 Michigan by 15, over #52 Syracuse by 14 on a neutral court, at #43 Georgia by 6, at #53 Tennessee by 10, and Wednesday over #13 Florida by 4 at home. SOUTH CAROLINA enters this game with an ANE of 0.216 points per possession against a strength of schedule of 0.0565 ppp (#33).
The Cats enter this game with an ANE of 0.331 ppp against a strength of schedule of 0.0578 ppp (#31). The ANE analysis indicates a Kentucky win by 13 points, 79-66 at apace of 75 possessions. This would produce game efficiencies of 1.058 ppp and 0.884 ppp. Pomeroy sees this game in Kentucky’s favor by 13 points, 79-66 at a pace of 74 possessions.
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