Cats show maturity, impress Calipari with will to win


Freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins reacts to having a foul called on him in the first half of UK’s 81-75 win over Mississippi State University at the Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Mississippi on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010

The No. 2 Cats (25-1, 10-1 Southeastern Conference) are still young, but their maturity seems to be growing by leaps and bounds.

After playing in front of a record crowd at hostile Humphrey Coliseum against the then-co-SEC West leading Mississippi State Bulldogs, a new chapter may have been written in the Cats’ season.

“They kept saying, ‘We’re not losing this game.’ They were in that huddle saying, ‘We’re not losing this game,’ ” UK head coach John Calipari said. “They refuse to lose.”

Freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins ignored about 100 phone calls and close to 1,000 text messages from Mississippi State students following Saturday’s win over Tennessee. Instead of letting the phone calls get to him, Cousins finished with 19 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and a block in 30 minutes.

What changed with the Cats wasn’t just Cousins’ maturity and temperament on the court, but the Cats’ decision making.

In their first game as the No. 1 team in the country, the Cats traveled to Columbia, S.C., and were handed their first and

only defeat of the season, heavily orchestrated by Gamecocks senior guard Devan Downey.

On Tuesday night, UK stormed back after being down by seven points late in the game.

“(Mississippi State) should have won the game,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “We kind of reached out and grabbed one. I don’t know how we did it, but we did.”

Multiple players had major contributions in the win. Cousins, John Wall and Patrick Patterson each earned double-doubles, the first time three UK players earned double-doubles in one game since 1977.

More impressive to Calipari was that this win came against what he called a top-25 caliber team. And the Cats weren’t trying to hold on to a lead, either — they were fighting to get back in the game.

“I know (Mississippi State has) lost a couple games, but … this team will be fine,” Calipari said. “I think, by the end of the day they’ll be right there with that opportunity to be in the NCAA Tournament.”

With another road victory on their resume and an environment as intimidating as they will face all season, the Cats seem to be more mature and more prepared for the next grueling month of the schedule, March.

“This is probably one of the toughest places we’ve played this year,” Cousins said. “It was intense from the start to the end. If the NCAA Tournament is like this, it’s going to be a long road.”