New year, new team? Cats stop losing streak with win in double overtime


Kentucky Wildcats guard Davion Mintz (10) attempts to block a 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

Eric Decker

A change in the calendar year, or at least a change in the rotation, was all Kentucky needed to stave off total collapse for another day.

The Wildcats defeated Mississippi State in Starkville, finishing 78-73 in double overtime to kick off SEC play. John Calipari and crew desperately needed a win to get the season back on track and satisfy fans, so there was little the head coach could complain about.

“I snuck in the back of the locker room in the far corner before they came in, because I just wanted to enjoy that celebration,” Calipari said after the game. “I wanted to see it, I wanted to enjoy it and I wanted to remember why I do what I do.”

Calipari was thrown out of the game in the second half, an ejection that kicked off a 7-0 run for the Cats. 

His two technical fouls were earned while arguing over a pretty insignificant carrying violation that was missed by the referee crew. Coach Cal has constantly reminded anyone who will listen that his ejection at Arkansas last year was the catalyst that jolted last year’s squad, which ended up with Kentucky hoisting the regular season SEC crown.

“When I walked off, I said this is either going to be a good thing or a bad thing.” Calipari said. “[In the locker room] I’m like pacing and going and it gets close, and now I’m saying, ‘this can turn into the same thing’.

(Cal said in postgame interviews that one of the fouls was somewhat deliberate and the second unintended).

The hopes for Kentucky (2-6, 1-0) rested on Dontaie Allen, who’d only seen the court for 20 minutes this season and scored only two baskets. Former “Mr. Basketball” in the state of Kentucky, the redshirt freshman Allen went 7-11 from three to lead the Wildcats in scoring with 23 points.

“I think I fall back on my work every time.” Allen said when asked if he expected himself to get such great form shooting wise. “If you put the work in, when you get your opportunity you know you’re going to be ready and I think that was a big reason why. I was just waiting on my opportunity and I feel like I capitalized on it.”

In recent weeks Kentucky fans were vocal in criticizing Calipari for not playing Allen, calling time and time again for the head coach to give a homegrown player like him a chance to lift the team’s badly needed three-point scoring.

Devin Askew and Lance Ware also made key contributions for the Cats, with Ware racking up in 12 rebounds with what Calipari called “unbelievable” fight.

A John Calipari-led Kentucky team has never lost against Mississippi State, though at the beginning of the game the night looked like it might be an anomaly for that record. The Cats kept up with their cold shooting numbers on the season firing at a 41% clip overall, and including a 11-21 mark from deep tonight.

In the final seconds of regular play, Kentucky called a timeout but was unable to get the shot they needed. Tied at 61-61, the Cats and Mississippi State went to two overtimes before all was said and done.

“There’s still some breakdowns on executions, but we needed one to get going.” Coach Cal said eagerly about the beginning of a “new” season. “To start the season off we’re 1-0. We use preseason to get us ready for our league play. And you know what? It got us ready.”

The Cats will need to win the SEC to have a shot at the postseason. We’ll see if they’re still ready Tuesday, When Jerry Stackhouse brings his Vanderbilt Commodores to Rupp Arena for the next round of conference play.