UK pulls off comeback win, beats Mississippi State

The largest deficit of the season, the electric crowd, the packed-in zone, the frontcourt with size to match — it looked like it wasn’t UK’s night, like it would be picking up its second loss of the season, with everything the Cats encountered.

And solved them all. Found a way to overcome them. Figured out how to win.

UK erased a 13-point halftime deficit, gradually working back to grab its first lead of the game with 4:11 left and then continued on to a 73-64 win.

John Calipari said in an ESPN postgame interview that the halftime deficit would show what the Cats were made of. We got to see it.

The victory improved UK to 27-1 and 13-0 in the SEC and clinched at least a share of its 45th regular-season SEC title.

More importantly than history, UK made another encouraging step in its progression toward March.

The Cats were struck at the start, falling behind quickly and never making a serious move until midway through the second half.

But when it did — goodness.

The defense, UK’s most vital component to winning a championship, finally clamped down. It allowed Mississippi State to shoot 48.3 percent in the first half — a rate that, had it stood, would have been the best shooting night UK allowed all year — but locked down Mississippi State in the second half. It was keyed by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist switching onto Dee Bost and holding him to five second-half points (he scored 16 in the first half).

Darius Miller, that senior leader, came up clutch. He scored all 12 of his points in the last eight minutes, including three big 3-pointers in the midst of UK’s closing 20-4 run.

It was, all told, another one of those games that does nothing but build confidence in UK’s ability to win the national title. It’s not a guarantee. There can’t be any of those when it comes to the brackets, no matter how good a team is. But the Cats have shown enough to assert themselves — at this moment — as the prohibitive NCAA Tournament favorite.

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