By Penny Deatrick
Kentucky rebounded from its Saturday's loss against Auburn with an 80-72 victory over Mississippi State in a late Tuesday night SEC showdown at Rupp Arena.
The victory was especially gratifying for Kentucky’s big men, Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery. Richards finished with a career-high 27 points and 11 rebounds, his 10th double-double of the season. Montgomery contributed with 12 points, eight rebounds and three steals.
UK coach John Calipari stated this is how he wants Montgomery to play. “What EJ did is what my vision for him is," said Coach Cal. "Notice he didn’t take many jump shots, and the ones he did, he missed. Everything else was at the rim, at the rim, at the rim. He squared up and drove the ball.”
When asked how Nick and EJ counteract going against bigs on the opponent's team, Calipari said, “They have got to hit first. They have got to want contact. They’ve got to play lower than the other guy. They can outrun people, which means they can react quicker to what’s happening.”
The coach added "both Nick and EJ are becoming conditioned big athletes.”
Kentucky's Nate Sestina commented about the play of Richards. “He is in great shape. He can grab rebounds, block shots, he does big things for us. It’s awesome to see," he said. "That dude is always in the gym, he is always working out. It’s just all starting to pay off for him.”
In the second half, Sestina suffered a shoulder injury. He left the court holding it immobile and went straight to the locker room, but was able to bounce back and continuing playing.
“It scared me more than anything," said Sestina. "It’s just really sore. I’ll just ice it and rehab it. It’s what I hurt my freshmen year, that’s why I’m here. I took my redshirt. It kind of slipped a little bit, it felt a little goofy. Kind of brought back some bad memories.”
For the Wildcats, Immanuel Quickley was hot as he sank 14 of 14 free throws, tying the school record for most free throws made in a game without a miss. He joins Louie Dampier, Ramel Bradley, and Jodie Meeks who also hit 14 without a miss.
UK's free throw shooting continues to be impressive. The Wildcats shot 31 of 35 for 86.1 percent.
Kentucky, now 17-5 overall and 7-2 in the SEC, travels for the fourth straight Saturday to a hostile environment, this time for a matchup with Tennessee in Knoxville. The game starts at 1:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on CBS.
Penny Deatrick is a staff writer from Louisville, Ky.