No. 2 Kentucky Holds Off No. 19 Mississippi State, 70-62
Feb 23, 2003
By CHRIS DUNCAN
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Kentucky got exactly what it needed from Mississippi State on Sunday.
A close game.
Keith Bogans had 18 points and seven rebounds as No. 2 Kentucky extended the nation's longest winning streak to 16 games with a 70-62 victory over the 19th-ranked Bulldogs.
Cliff Hawkins added 14 points for the Wildcats (22-3, 12-0 Southeastern Conference), who had won their last 10 games by double figures.
This one didn't come as easily as most of their other recent victories, as the Wildcats nearly blew a 16-point lead with 10 minutes left.
"We needed a game like that," Hawkins said.
Marquis Estill's dunk with 10:10 left put the Wildcats up 58-42, but Kentucky went cold, missing eight straight shots and going nearly five minutes without scoring.
"Once we got the lead, we got timid. We stopped attacking," said Bogans, who was 6-for-11 from the field, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
Mario Austin, who had 20 points and eight rebounds, scored twice inside and Michael Ignerski hit a 3-pointer during a 10-0 run for the Bulldogs (17-6, 7-5).
Erik Daniels ended the Wildcats' drought with a layup, but Austin converted a three-point play with 5:13 left to cut Kentucky's lead to 60-55.
"We came out and played hard, but we got down too much and it was hard to come back," Austin said.
But as Kentucky's second-half lead dwindled, Bogans started having flashbacks to last season's meeting in Starkville, when Kentucky blew an 18-point second-half lead and lost 74-69.
"I remember last year. They kept coming at us," Bogans said.
This time, the Wildcats hung on. Hawkins scored five points down the stretch to help the Wildcats beat Mississippi State for the 41st time in 45 meetings in Lexington.
"This just gives us a different taste of victory," said Kentucky's Chuck Hayes, who had four points and eight rebounds. "We would prefer a blowout, to manhandle somebody. It's good to have a grind-it-out kind of a game."
Bogans said the game taught Kentucky an important lesson.
"It's not scary. This is clutch time, to see what type of team we have," Bogans said.
Gerald Fitch, who had nine points and three assists, said Sunday's game will prepare the Wildcats for the postseason.
"We're pretty sure we're going to have games like these in the SEC tournament," he said. "It's good getting back in the mode of close games and not blowing teams out."
Kentucky led from the start, building an early nine-point lead by switching between a 2-3 zone and a man-to-man defense.
Timmy Bowers made a 3-pointer to draw Mississippi State within six, but Hawkins answered with a 3-pointer that launched a 15-2 Kentucky run.
The Bulldogs committed four turnovers in a three-minute span and trailed 32-13 after Bogans' 3-pointer with 6:26 left in the opening half.
"I thought we were going to put them away in the first half," Fitch said.
But the Wildcats committed five turnovers in the last three minutes of the first half after Mississippi State switched to a 2-3 zone.
A 3-pointer by Bowers just before halftime trimmed the Kentucky lead to 38-28.
"Most teams get down 19 to UK in this place, you might as well start the bus," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "Our kids didn't quit."
Bogans made two 3-pointers early in the second half as the Wildcats rebuilt a comfortable lead. Kentucky was 7-for-11 from 3-point range after Bogans' baskets.
Estill rebounded a miss by Austin and found Bogans for a breakaway layup and a 56-39 lead with 12:45 left. Kentucky made eight of its first 11 shots after halftime.
The Wildcats finished 28-of-52 from the field (54 percent), including 7-of-15 from 3-point range (47 percent), to overcome 17 turnovers.
"They've got so many weapons, they're not an easy team to defend," Stansbury said. "You've got to pick your poison."
Kentucky invited all its surviving former players to Sunday's game and those in attendance were introduced at halftime.