Cats bounced by Bulldogs in SEC second round


Kentucky Wildcats forward Olivier Sarr (30) walks off the court with his teammates after missing a game winning shot during the University of Kentucky vs. Notre Dame basketball game on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Notre Dame won 64-63. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Braden Ramsey

UK’s men’s basketball lost to the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the second round of the SEC tournament on March 11, ending a season of trials and mishaps and essentially costing Kentucky any chance of continuing to the NCAA tournament.

Kentucky was thoroughly dominated in the opening half. But a massive push from Dontaie Allen breathed life into the Cats, earning them a five-point lead with 4:30 to go. 

The Bulldogs rallied behind Iverson Molinar to outscore Kentucky 8-2 in the last 3:07 of play. A lay-up from Olivier Sarr put Kentucky back within striking rangee, but a potential game winner from Allen in the final seconds Allen bounced off the rim and left Kentucky with a 74-73 loss.

The loss ended Kentucky’s chance to qualify for the NCAA tournament, leaving head coach John Calipari packing without an NCAA appearance for the second time in his Wildcat tenure.

“I thought we were going to make a run.  The way we started the game was so disappointing,” he said postgame. “I told them at halftime, this will be a great story, this comeback, if that’s what you want.”

Kentucky would have had to win four games in four days to qualify, but headed into their first game the team chose to take the SEC tournament one game at a time. This is the first loss for Calipari against Mississippi State in 16 showings. The Bulldogs gained their lead early in part due to rebounding strength, outstripping the Cats by 16 on the boards.

Now, Kentucky will look to next season and returning its promising young players, including Allen. Allen scored 20 points, including five three pointers, in the second half, evoking memories of his first major appearance against this same Mississippi State squad.

“Dontaie just has their number. He’s proven himself,” graduate guard Davion Mintz said. “It was no surprise that he got super locked in like that… [he’s] a great shooter. I’m super happy for him.”

But the showing from Allen was not enough to make up for season-long issues. The Bulldogs made mince meat of Kentucky’s interior, recording 36 points in the paint through the first 20 minutes. Calipari’s fellow coaches were enraged; he was too.

“The staff was going crazy a little bit. I walked in and said, ‘Just stop, this ain’t about us,’” Cal told reporters. “This is if they want to do this, we’ll fight. We’re going at you in the post. You’re going to either prove you’re tough enough or you’re not.”

The defeat was Kentucky’s fourth of the year by a single point. The Wildcat head coach called attention to the result embodying the season overall.

“It’s just disappointing,” he uttered. “Let me just say, kind of like the year went.”

At 9 -16, this is Kentucky’s first losing season since 1988-89 and only the third time it has missed the NCAA tournament since 1991. The lackluster showing was in part due to key pieces not living up to their potential.

“I’m upset [at] the fact that this team couldn’t show what we actually are,” Allen said.

The Cats now head back to Lexington without a true postseason to prepare for, barring an unlikely bid in the NIT. For just the second time in the Calipari era, the team will experience March Madness the same way as fans – watching from the sideline.