Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mississippi St. 56 - 74 Kentucky (No. 2,168)

When you've been watching Kentucky play as long as I have, every trip through the SEC schedule is a trip down memory lane, filled with opportunities to reflect on old triumphs or defeats.  This game, for example, tipped off at 6 P.M. Central Standard Time on a Wednesday night, which is 7 P.M. where I live.  Now when I was growing up, UK played many SEC games on Wednesday night, and almost all those games started just about the time we were pulling into the church parking lot for Wednesday night Bible classes.  This was not good for me spiritually, as I could never stop worrying about how the Cats were doing.  Church would end at 8:30, and I would dash out to the car in order to hear from Cawood what was happening.

This was real "life is like a box of chocolates" stuff.  Sometimes you would tune in, and hear Cawood confidently and happily discussing a blowout.  On Wednesday, January 21, 1981, for example, the Cats whipped Florida 102-48 at Rupp Arena.  But often, especially when the Cats were on the road, you would hear a howl of noise from the other team's fans, and Cawood's voice would have the anxious tone that signaled that the Cats were in trouble.

(Cawood was a genius at letting you know how the game was going even if you didn't know the score.  It wasn't just the tone of his voice.  He would throw in comments like "Cats looking very ragged tonight" or "Cats being sloppy with the ball," to let you know that things weren't going well.  On the other hand, if UK scored, Cawood could emphasize the phrase "got it!" in a manner that let you know everything was going to be all right.  I am almost 50 years old, and I have rarely seen anyone who was as good at anything as Cawood Ledford was at calling basketball games.)

In my mind, it seems like a large number of these close Wednesday night games took place in the state of Mississippi.  I don't know if that's actually true -- although it may be, because our games with Mississippi State and Ole Miss were rarely televised live.  But that's how I remember it.  On Wednesday, February 11, 1981, the Cats went to Ole Miss and pulled out a 62-55 win over the Rebels.  Two weeks later, UK was in Starkville, where they edged Mississippi State 78-74.  I don't remember the specifics of either of these games, but there were many Wednesday nights in the car, waiting for my parents to finish talking to their friends, and worrying about whether UK could pull out another win.

So when I saw that UK was scheduled to play at Mississippi State, with a 7 P.M. tip-off on a Wednesday evening, all of these old memories came back.  No matter how good the Cats are, or how bad Mississippi State is, I will never like games in Starkville.  So I sat in Wednesday night Bible Class, and waited to see what news I'd get at 8:30.

Meanwhile, down in Starkville, the Cats were playing a pretty odd game.  In the first place, it snowed, which held the attendance down to 6,795.  In the second place, MSU had elected to do some sort of "blackout" -- their players were wearing black uniforms with maroon trim, while UK got to wear the home whites.  I don't like the crowds at the Humphrey Center, and I like seeing UK in white, so these developments would have made me happy.  And the first half went fine, as UK led 36-27 at the break -- halfway to the 18-point victory predicted by the oddsmakers.  Then the Cats eased up somewhat, and with 15:10 left in the game, the Kentucky lead was down to 41-37.  The MSU fans were excited.  The MSU players were excited.  And then, over the next 6 minutes and 26 seconds, the Cats blitzed Mississippi State -- going on a 19-3 run that left UK up 60-40.  It was like one of those episodes where Wile E. Coyote is just about to catch the Road Runner, only to have the Road Runner go "Beep! Beep!" and disappear in a blaze of smoke, speed, and flying asphalt.  From there it was just a matter of letting the time run out.

28-0.  15-0 in the SEC.  Three games left.

It was the first game all year where Trey Lyles looked like UK's best player.  He went 7-12 from the field, 4-4 from the line, putting up 18 points and 6 rebounds in only 21 minutes.  I still don't have a sense of how good Lyles could be, but I have a feeling we've been underrating him all along -- Coach Calipari seemed to really miss Lyles when he was out with that illness a few weeks ago.

The Cats have now beaten 12 of the other 13 teams in the SEC.  That just leaves Arkansas, who comes to Rupp Arena in the next game.  UK hasn't beaten Arkansas since we had Anthony Davis, and since there aren't usually church services on Saturday afternoon, the whole Kentucky fan base should be able to tune in and see how this year's group does against the Razorbacks.

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