Kentucky returns to Rupp Arena as winners of four of their last five games, including two straight on the road.  The Wildcats survived a sizzling hot second half of shooting from Auburn 82-80.  After a much maligned and sluggish start to the season, the Cats are really rounding into form.  With March Madness rapidly approaching, every conference game is of vital importance for these young Wildcats.

After their chaotic game in Auburn, the Cats return to the comforts of Rupp Arena this Tuesday.  The hungry Mississippi State Bulldogs are another dangerous three-point shooting team that could give Kentucky fits this Tuesday.  Against Auburn the Cats allowed 13 of 30 three-pointers to fall.  While that’s not an ideal number to allow to fall, the Cats were able to answer in the interior.  Enter Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs are a much more efficient three-point shooting team than Auburn.  These Bulldogs, coached by former UCLA coach Ben Howland, shoot around 24 threes per game.  To make matters worse, they make nearly 40% of them, 38.3% to be precise.  The Cats proved they are still susceptible to three-point shooting, especially to volume shooting teams like Auburn and Mississippi State.  Hopefully, Kentucky head coach John Calipari will script a better game plan for defending the three.

Last season, the Wildcats coasted to a 77-65 win over the Bulldogs behind a 22 point eruption from then-freshman PJ Washington.  Kentucky will need another solid game from Washington in this game in the interior as well as on defense.  With senior graduate transfer Reid Travis struggling in conference play, Washington will need to step up while Travis adjusts.

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Key Players To Watch

Quinndary Weatherspoon is the Bulldogs leading scorer this season, averaging 16.6 points per game while shooting 48% from the field.  Weatherspoon doesn’t scorch the net with his three-point shooting stroke (32.7%) but he is a capable scorer from anywhere on the floor.  Weatherspoon also averages 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.  Clearly, the offense runs through Weatherspoon and will need to be kept in check.

Keldon Johnson is Kentucky’s leading scorer with 14.9 points per game as well as 5.1 rebounds per game and 1.9 assists a game.  While Kentucky has proven they can win without Johnson’s scoring, the Cats are a completely different team with him in the mix.  Had Johnson not rounded back into form with 20 points against Auburn, the Cats likely would be returning home licking their wounds.  Johnson’s a dangerous open three-point shooter (39.0%) but thrives slashing to the basket.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

The Cats have an advantage in the paint on both offense and defense.  It doesn’t hurt that they’re a longer and more physical team than the Bulldogs.  If Mississippi State goes on a cold shooting streak, as Auburn did against Kentucky, the Cats could run away with this one.

Look for Johnson and tenacious defender Ashton Hagans to defend the perimeter admirably while Washington and Travis control the paint.  The eighth-ranked Wildcats win again at home.

Kentucky 82   Mississippi State 71

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