After a brutal loss on the road on Saturday against the Auburn Tigers, the Cats came back home on a late Tuesday night to beat the Bulldogs of Mississippi State, 80-72.
”I thought they did a good job tonight defensively in the paint,” says Mississippi State’s head coach Ben Howland on how Kentucky’s defense really affected how they wanted to play. “That’s a very good Kentucky team. Their guard play is outstanding and they don’t turn it over.”
Even in the win, the Cats were out rebounded once again tonight, 40-37. This is the first time this season that Kentucky has been out-rebound and still seals the victory. They lost their last four. Despite the loss in the rebound battle, the play of EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards catapulted this team tonight.
“EJ (Montgomery) was ridiculous,” says Kentucky head coach John Calipari on the performance EJ put on the floor tonight. “That’s my vision of them, that’s what I think he is.”
Montgomery put up 12 points and 9 rebounds and really came up with some crucial plays throughout the game where Mississippi State was coming back. Cal eluded to his success on his conditioning by saying that with the work at practice allowed him to enjoy the game. He endeed enjoyed the atmosphere at Rupp tonight and was smiling more than ever.
“The fact that EJ (Montgomery) had 12 and 9 was huge,” says grad-transfer senior Nate Sestina on the effect Montgomery’s production had for the team. “It’s a huge lift for him personally but is also a huge lift for us as a team. You take a little pressure off of Nick (Richards) where Nick (Richards) is not forced to score.”
Even in Sestina’s mind that Richards wasn’t forced to score he still had a career-night in points with 27 and grabbed 11 rebounds. This totaled to be his 10th double-double in the season and kept Kentucky in front all throughout the night.
”We did drills for two days, the same drills we did before Auburn for two days, but you must be lower than they are. “ says John Calipari on Montgomery and Richards’ play down low.
Going into the game, the Cats were going to have a battle down low with sophomore forward Reggie Perry on the other end for the Bulldogs. Perry was basically shut down throughout the game due to the defensive plays by Richards and Montgomery. The star sophomore forward ended up with only 14 points and 8 rebounds. His performance against Kentucky was 7 points and 2 rebounds off his average this season. Perry ended up fouling out of the game and never gave the Bulldogs a chance tonight. He turned the ball over four times and the Bulldogs were -7 in the plus minus category with him on the floor.
“It was a personal challenge for all of us to slow the team down,” says junior forward Nick Richards on what it meant to him on the defensive end to shut the Bulldogs down. “I don’t know who it was, but one guard had like twelve points in the first half. We just came into halftime, and we just focused on what we talked about during practice, and we changed up our strategy a little bit, and we just came out with a W.”
The post presence on the offensive end for Kentucky was not seen against Auburn. There were a lot of possessions where the ball never touched the paint. Tonight, a different story. When Kentucky was in their half-court sets and going through their progressions, the Cats had a night and day performance compared to Saturday. The ball went into the paint 28 times and ended up being worth a total of 29 points. Those paint touch points totaled to over 75% of their points in the paint.
As the game was coming down to the wire, the Cats saw another lead dwindling down with a run in the last five minutes of the game by the Bulldogs. Free throws really pulled the game away in the last minute. The Cats went 10 for 10 and really put on a clinic in how you should finish a game. A big part of that was sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley as he went 14-14 in the game. This tied the record for most consecutive free throws made in a game by a Kentucky player. Quickley now has the record with Louie Dampier (December 22nd, 1966 vs. Oregon State), Ramel Bradley (November 7th, 2007) and Jodie Meeks (January 13th, 2009).
Last note of the game though comes from the injury side of things as grad-transfer senior Nate Sestina came off the floor in the second half grimacing and holding his right shoulder. After a few minutes, Sestina ran back on the floor and ready to go. Postgame, Sestina discussed that this is something that he has fought through since his freshman year at Bucknell. This same shoulder is the reason why he was granted a fifth year.
“Kind of brought back some bad memories, it scared me more than anything,” says Sestina on his on-going shoulder pain. “I’ll just ice it, rehab it.”
When Sestina came back into the game he played a major role on the defensive front and gave a boost off the bench by giving rest to both Richards and Montgomery. We will keep you more updated here at Cameron Mills Radio on his shoulder injury in the next few days.
With the win, the Cats advance to 17-5 overall and 7-2 in SEC play. The Cat’s next game will be Saturday against the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville at 1 P.M. EST on CBS. This will be the fourth Saturday game in a row for Kentucky on the road.