Kentucky men’s basketball survives comeback to extend winning streak


Kentucky freshman guard Ashton Hagans drives to the basket during the game against Mississippi State on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 76-55. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

After the UK men’s basketball team was revealed as a current No. 2 seed for March Madness by the NCAA Selection Committee, the Cats extended their winning streak and solidified their case as a top team. They traveled to Starkville, Mississippi, where they swept the season series against the Bulldogs, surviving the comeback 71-67 for their 10th straight win.

The Cats spent the first half stifling Mississippi State’s leading scorer Quinndary Weatherspoon, who averages 18.0 points a game. He was held scoreless on only one shot attempt in the first half, with a missed free throw and a turnover.

P.J. Washington got the team started by continuing his hot streak, hitting two threes and a basket inside to score UK’s first eight points. He’d finish the first half with 10 to lead all scorers.

The Cats carried the strong defensive effort that’s been a staple of their winning streak through the first half, allowing only 25 points as Mississippi State committed six turnovers. Ashton Hagans poured in seven first-half assists to orchestrate the offense as the Cats carried a 40-25 lead into halftime.

After the half, UK stretched the lead to as many as 18, but a 19-2 run by the Bulldogs brought them to within one point with nearly half of the second half to go. The previously shut-out Weatherspoon put up 14 second-half points to fuel the run, though he shot just 4-11.

After not making a three-point basket in the first half, the Bulldogs found their stroke from deep to open up their offensive game against the fifth-ranked visitors. They finished the game 7-18 from deep, enough to cause the Cats problems during their comeback attempt.

Washington and fellow forward Reid Travis saw foul trouble late in the game that plagued both teams, but the issue didn’t become critical until the end of the game. With 23 points to his name, Washington committed a shooting foul against Weatherspoon, who scored a layup and the subsequent free throw to bring the game to within three. Washington fouled out with over a minute left, leaving the Cats’ biggest offensive weapon on the bench.

His replacement was the star that put away the game and took away Mississippi State’s chance to come back, however. E.J. Montgomery, who saw his breakout game come Tuesday against South Carolina, chased a rebound all the way to the sideline to give the Cats an extra full possession. The Cats’ missed shot gave the Bulldogs the ball back with less than 20 seconds to go, and Weatherspoon had his layup blocked to ice the game.

Hagans hit one more free throw to put it away for good, and the Cats will still have a living winning streak when they host LSU on Tuesday.