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Kentucky Basketball

Montgomery and Richards Propel Cats to 80-72 Win Over Miss. State

February 4, 2020

EJ Montgomery finally had fun on the basketball court tonight, as he helped Kentucky fight off a feisty Mississippi State squad 80-72 in Rupp. The win is Kentucky’s 14th in a row over Mississippi State. All season John Calipari has been searching for the right button to push to let EJ blossom, and tonight he may have found it. EJ was repeatedly put in a position on the right-wing to either shoot or use one or two power dribbles to either get to the rim or pull up for a baby hook. He converted on drives in the half-court and on the break and looked confident in getting to the basket and finishing. Finishing the play has been an issue for EJ since his freshman season, but tonight he managed to make the play more often than not. EJ also brought energy for longer stretches tonight, as he has also struggled with his stamina since arriving at Kentucky. He was everywhere on the court, hustling for loose balls, rebounding out of his area, and getting himself in the right position to finish off possessions and fast breaks tonight, as he finished with 12 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, and a block in 32 minutes, in his most well-rounded game of the season by far. EJ had always shown flashes of what he could do with his size, length, and athletic ability, but he finally put it all together tonight in his best game of the season, and possibly his career.

Not to be out-done however, Nick Richards bounced back from a sloppy first-half performance, tallying only one field goal, to put up 25 big points, making 13-15 free throws to give him a career-high 27, and pulled down 11 rebounds. Nick found his way to the line after making hustle plays to grab boards and taking it strong to the rim. It was a solid bounce-back from his showing at Auburn and his very shaky first half, as Mississippi State’s bigs, Reggie Perry and Abdul Ado were disruptive inside, as most of UK’s points came from just outside the paint, or on drives from the guards and in transition. Nate Sestina also provided a nice spark in the first half, hitting 3-4 field goals and providing some scoring from the bench in a low-scoring first half. The first half was a struggle defensively, as both teams were shooting poorly, as MSU was held to 31% overall from the field. Both teams pressured the ball well and caused shaky possessions, and the Cats had trouble executing on offense, much as they did at Auburn on Saturday. However, Kentucky was able to play fantastic disruptive defense themselves to give them an 8 point cushion going into halftime, at 31-23.

The second half went much the same way until the last 5 minutes or so when it turned into a lay-up for free throw contest, in which UK was able to maintain their margin by hitting 29-33 free throws in the second half, including 16-16 in the last 2:21 to keep MSU at bay. The Bulldogs wouldn’t give up, as they fouled down 6-8 points the entire last 2 minutes in hopes of UK missing, but the Cats refused to oblige. Kentucky made 31 of 36 from the line for the game for 86%, improving on their already fantastic team free throw percentage on the year. The only thing the Cats struggled with tonight was perimeter shooting, as they only made 1 of 10 threes, and several players missed multiple 15-18 foot shots, especially in the first half. Quickley had several open threes, and if he had made them as he has most of the season the final margin would have likely been much higher. He was only able to make 1 of 6 of his attempts tonight, however, and the margin could only get to 14, at 50-36 with 10:50 left. Ironically, Nick Richards hit a big 18-foot jumper to give the Cats a 62-54 lead, out of an MSU timeout after the Bulldogs had gotten to within two possessions, with 4:12 left. From there, Immanuel Quickley, Ashton Hagans, and Richards nailed all of their free throws to seal the victory.

The Cats now stand at 17-5 over-all and 7-2 in the SEC, tied with Auburn for 2nd place behind 8-0 LSU, with a big game on the road in Knoxville on Saturday next on the schedule. Kentucky has struggled to win at Tennessee since Rick Barnes arrived, and though Tennessee is a bit down this year, Thompson Boling Arena will be rocking, as it always does when the Cats come to town, as Kentucky will face its fourth consecutive tough road game environment on Saturday. The game between the Cats and Vols tips at 1 pm on CBS.

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Montgomery and Richards Propel Cats to 80-72 Win Over Miss. State

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