STARKVILLE, Miss. – It’s a good thing Kentucky basketball has gotten good at winning ugly, because Tuesday night’s trip to Mississippi State was the ugliest yet in a string of three straight foul fests involving the Wildcats.
With the whistles once again blaring, freshman star Malik Monk playing arguably his worst game in a UK uniform, and sophomore leader Isaiah Briscoe not much better, the fifth-ranked Cats still scratched out an 88-81 victory on the road.
Kentucky (16-2, 6-0 SEC) got a second straight big game from freshman Wenyen Gabriel – he and fellow forward Derek Willis combined for six made 3-poitners – and 21 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds from freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox.
Those were about the only nice-looking things in a game marred by 52 combined fouls. There were 25 fouls in the first half and 10 players – five per side – in foul trouble by intermission. Four players fouled out.
In Kentucky’s last 120 minutes of basketball, there have been a total of 144 fouls called.
Player of the game
The light bulb is coming on for Gabriel, who had a career-high 16 rebounds Saturday against Auburn and followed that with 13 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists and a steal in 20 minutes against Mississippi State. He made all three of his 3-point tries and is 5 of 6 from deep the last two games after starting his UK career 4 of 20.
Stat line of the game
The usually reliable Monk was a mess against the Bulldogs. He hit just 5 of 14 shots and turned it over five times. Briscoe was 4 of 14 from the field but turned it over just twice. They still combined for 26 points but were a big reason MSU had a chance late.
Humphrey Coliseum, quiet much of the night, roared to life suddenly when the Bulldogs slashed an 18-point Kentucky lead to four, using a 16-2 run, with 8:56 to go. Then Wildcats senior Dominique Hawkins rattled in a huge 3-pointer from the left wing to stabilize the visitors.
When Mississippi State (12-5, 3-2) pulled even closer still, within 69-66 with 7:49 remaining, Gabriel buried a 3-pointer in the right corner to ignite a 7-0 Kentucky run that took just 55 seconds and stretched the lead back to double digits. That was enough cushion for the Cats to grind out another victory.
What’s next for Kentucky basketball
The Wildcats return home Saturday (6 p.m. on ESPN) to face their first ranked conference opponent: No. 24 South Carolina (14-3, 4-0). The Gamecocks beat Syracuse and Michigan in their non-league schedule and already have SEC road wins at Georgia and Tennessee. USC has a big test before coming to Lexington, though, as it’ll host No. 19 Florida on Wednesday night.
Kentucky vs. Mississippi State box score