The skinny: By no means was it pretty, but Kentucky got a precious road win on Saturday, taking down Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., 69-59. No. 18/14 UK (18-5, 8-2 Southeastern Conference) won for the sixth time in seven games behind a solid defensive effort. MSU (13-10, 3-7 SEC) shot just 38.3 percent from the field and scored 0.881 points per possession. UK, meanwhile, never could quite pull away, but led by no fewer than six points after closing the first half on a 19-6 run. Julius Randle scored 16 points to lead all scorers, while James Young added 11 points in 20 foul-limited minutes.
The difference: Second-chance points. UK's 38-33 rebounding edge wasn't its widest of the season, but it was enough to give the Wildcats the separation they needed. UK grabbed 13 offensive rebounds to Mississippi State's eight and outscored the home-standing Bulldogs 14-4 in second-chance points.
Player of the game: Randle. Coping the double and triple teams to which he's grown so accustomed, Randle was efficient from the field (8-of-13) in scoring a game-high 16 points. He also added seven rebounds, a steal and a block and made a number of nice passes out of the post even though he finished with just one assist.
Turning point: That run to close the first half. His team trailing 17-13 with 9:38 left in the first half and Andrew Harrison, Young and Willie Cauley-Stein saddled with two fouls apiece, John Calipari went to his bench. In search of energy, he inserted Jon Hood and the senior delivered exactly what UK needed. Hood had played only five minutes since the start of SEC play, but he -- along with Jarrod Polson -- was on the floor for every second of the run that turned a four-point deficit into a nine-point halftime lead. For the game, Hood had only three points and two rebounds in 13 minutes, but he sported a team-high plus-minus of plus-15.
Key stat: Nine turnovers. At no point was UK in sync offensively, but the Cats positioned themselves to win by committing just nine turnovers to the Bulldogs' 13. With offensive rebounders like Randle, Dakari Johnson and Cauley-Stein, a missed shot can often be UK's best plan of attack. Limiting turnovers allowed UK to maximize those chances.
Unsung heroes: Johnson. Making his third consecutive start, Johnson continued his recent emergence in posting nine points, eight rebounds and a block. He was a perfect 3-for-3 from both the field and the line in his 21 minutes, showing toughness and touch around the basket.
What this one means: A win is a win. Even though the performance revealed the Cats still have a great deal to work on, UK avoided short-circuiting the momentum it built against Missouri and Texas A&M by surviving a trip to a hostile road venue. The Cats stayed within two games of first-place Florida with games against Auburn and the Gators looming next week, moving to 4-5 away from Rupp Arena in the process.
Video: Postgame interviews with Calipari, Johnson, Hood