Kentucky's trip to Starkville 'will be won or lost in the trenches'

On3 imageby:Jack Pilgrim02/26/24

It’s our second rematch opportunity of the season for Kentucky, both times coming off wins in the first battle. The Cats came up short in the first follow-up matchup, losing to Florida inside Rupp Arena after beating the Gators a few weeks earlier in Gainesville. How will things go at Mississippi State after John Calipari’s squad rolled to a 90-77 home win back on Jan. 17?

Chin Coleman says the game will come down to the war of the trenches, just as it did the first time around.

“We did a good job of taking away a lot of their initial stuff. And they watch film, they’re a really good culture, so they’re going to understand what we did to take away a lot of their initial actions,” Coleman said ahead of the team’s trip to Starkville. “They want to play through their post player, Tolu Smith. Obviously, they’re not starting him now, they’re starting (Jimmy) Bell now. But they want to play through the post players.

“They’re more deliberate than random. So by being more deliberate, we kind of knew where they wanted the ball to go and we kind of took some of those things away. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, we only made I think seven threes. But we lived at the rim. We loved the rim, just liked the three a little bit that game, so we shot an enormous amount of free throws. When you do that, you are the aggressor. We want to go down there with the same mindset of being the aggressor.”

Kentucky converted 30 of its 54 total attempts, including a 7-23 mark from three. The difference? 23 made free throws on 27 tries, good for 85.2%. Mississippi State shot just ten free throws with six makes. And it was a wash on the battle of the boards, a point of emphasis to neutralize the hard-nosed Bulldogs after shutting them down on the glass 38-22 in Starkville last season in a 71-68 road win.

Physicality will be the name of the game this time around, as well.

“The most important thing that we remember from the first game is that we controlled the glass. They average like 14, 15 offensive rebounds a game. The reason why we beat them down there last year is because we controlled the glass,” Coleman said. “The game this year again will be won or lost in the trenches, and that’s inside the paint. The hitting, the car crashes, the collisions, coming up with balls, coming up with 50-50 balls, coming up with balls outside of your area. That’s where the game is going to be played at.”

The Alabama game was a track meet, an all-out scoring affair played inside Rupp Arena. Coleman urges fans to get that matchup out of their heads as they prepare for what’s to come in Starkville.

“It’s not going to be like — we’ve got to flip the switch. It’s not going to be like Alabama. This will be a totally different game,” he said. “There will be car crashes, there will be collisions. We’ve got to win the bump war. That’s what we call it. Gotta win the bump war.”

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