LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY (TICKER) —Kentucky played its usual brand of dominant basketball - for the first 30 minutes.
Keith Bogans scored 18 points as the second-ranked Wildcats ran the nation’s longest winning streak to 16 games with a 70-62 victory over No. 19 Mississippi State in a battle of Southeastern Conference division leaders.
Kentucky (22-3, 12-0 SEC East) put together another terrific display, leading by as many as 19 points on the way to another possible rout. A dunk by Marquis Estill supplied a 58-42 cushion near the midway point of the second half.
But the Wildcats - who had won 10 straight games by double digits - hit an unexpected wall, managing only one basket and missing several free throws in a span of nearly eight minutes.
Mississippi State (17-6, 7-5 West) pulled within 60-55 on Mario Austin’s three-point play with 5:13 remaining. Michal Ignerski ignited that 13-2 run with six points.
The Bulldogs had numerous chances to get closer, but Timmy Bowers missed a 3-pointer, Derrick Zimmerman saw a contested layup attempt roll out and Austin missed a 1-and-1 opportunity.
After a timeout by Kentucky, Cliff Hawkins snuck inside for a layup and a 62-55 advantage with 2:32 to go. Mississippi State got no closer than five points thereafter.
“This was one of those games where we had to grind it out, and that’s a credit to Mississippi State,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “We made big shots when we had to.”
“I told our players not to be happy with a loss,” said Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, a Kentucky native. “I don’t ever want them to be happy with a loss. But most teams, But most teams down 19 points to UK might as well start the bus. Our kids didn’t quit.”
Austin collected 20 points and eight rebounds for Mississippi State, which fell into a tie for first place with Auburn atop the West Division.
The Bulldogs had outrebounded every opponent this season, but the Wildcats controlled the glass to the tune of a 37-25 advantage. Estill and Chuck Hayes each grabbed eight rebounds and also did a fairly effective job on defense in limiting Austin’s touches.
“We stressed that (rebounding) all week,” Smith said. “We made a special effort to box out against them.”
Austin only had six points and six shots in the first half before the penetration of Zimmerman found him more in the second half.
“Mario is a great player and a good friend,” Estill said. “He played a great game with solid defense.”
Hawkins scored a season-high 14 points and Estill added 10 as Kentucky shot 54 percent (28-of-52). Bogans was on target from beyond the arc, connecting on 4-of-7 attempts.
“It’s a matter of confidence,” Bogans said. “My confidence really grew (after) my struggles last year. I guess I’m being rewarded now.”
Kentucky never trailed and took a 17-8 lead on a basket by Jules Camara just over eight minutes into the game. The Wildcats had five different players score in a 12-0 burst that opened up a 32-13 advantage with 6:23 left on a 3-pointer by Bogans.
Bowers drilled a pair of 3-pointers to close the first half, including a runner from 22 feet out at the buzzer to cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to 38-28.
“They got a big lead early and their crowd got into it and we just dug too big of a hole for ourselves,” Bowers said. “Once we started the comeback, I think we pretty much played even with them.”
The Wildcats used a 10-2 run that featured eight points by Bogans to seize a 56-39 advantage with 12:47 remaining. But Kentucky started to get sloppy and also went stagnant on the offensive end.
Bowers netted 13 points and Ignerski chipped in with 11 for Mississippi State, which made just 6-of-18 shots from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs’ reserves were outscored by the Wildcats’ bench players, 23-7.
Hayes had six of Kentucky’s 17 assists, compared to only seven for Mississippi State. The Wildcats overcame 17 turnovers and swept all six games from West division foes for the first time since 1996.