‘Dogs make it rain on Cats

Jarvis Varnado, left, blocks Perry Stevensons shot attempt during Mississippi States 66-57 victory Tuesday at Rupp Arena.

Jarvis Varnado, left, blocks Perry Stevenson’s shot attempt during Mississippi State’s 66-57 victory Tuesday at Rupp Arena.

Jarvis Varnado, left, blocks Perry Stevenson’s shot attempt during Mississippi State’s 66-57 victory Tuesday at Rupp Arena. Photo by Elliott Hess | Staff

Sometimes, it’s just one of those days. A day when nothing seems to happen the right way.

Consider Tuesday one of those days for the Cats.

Hosting Mississippi State, the Cats struggled early and often to put the ball in the hoop. On the other end, the Bulldogs faced no such struggle — they hit 14-of-27 from 3-point territory. The result: a 66-57 win for the visitors.

“Somehow tonight, we came in here limping a little bit after getting hit in the mouth our last game,” Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said. “We probably played better than we are, and I know Kentucky didn’t play as well as they really are. But our kids found ways to make plays.”

As soon as the game got underway, it looked like “one of those days” for the Cats. UK missed its first 10 shots from the floor and allowed the Bulldogs to score the game’s first eight points.

By the time UK finally got on the scoreboard, six minutes had already melted off the clock, and the Cats were already feeling the heat of the Bulldogs’ hot hand.

“We just didn’t do a good job defending them from behind the arc,” UK head coach Billy Gillispie said. “We played hard, we just didn’t play smart.”

Stansbury said his plan was to deny Patterson and junior Perry Stevenson of getting touches in the paint. On the Cats’ first possession of the game, Patterson caught the ball down low, and three defenders immediately swarmed around him. Patterson coughed up the ball, one of his game-high six turnovers.

The pressure didn’t come off Patterson for the rest of the game, even when Mississippi State’s top dog was in trouble.

Jarvis Varnado, the nation’s leading shot blocker, exerted his presence on the Cats’ interior game — that is, when he wasn’t on the bench. Varnado played just seven minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Varnado left the game with 7:03 left in the half, and the Bulldogs held a seven-point lead.

At halftime — with Varnado still seated comfortably — the lead had expanded to 13.

“That was huge for our psyche going into halftime,” Stansbury said.

Stansbury said the contest wasn’t won on the 3-point line — even though MSU scored 30 more points from long range than UK did. Instead, Stevenson’s six points and six rebounds marked the difference.

“I thought we did a great job of neutralizing. If you’re going to play small, you have to win the war (down low),” Stansbury said. “Phil Turner had 18 points and eight rebounds. Perry Stevenson had six and six. If you win that war, you have a pretty good shot of winning.”

Stevenson likened the Cats’ struggles in the game to the struggles they’ve faced in their previous two — both losses. Stevenson said they’ve hit a valley in the season.

“It’s a really big mountain to climb,” Stevenson said. “We just need to have our hiking boots on.”

The Cats need to get back to practice, Stevenson said, and get back to playing like they were during their five-game win streak to open conference play.

In the SEC, though, Stansbury said these nights are bound to happen, even to what he called a “very good team.”

“We made some shots, UK didn’t. UK might not miss a shot next game,” Stansbury said. “Tonight’s one of those nights.”