Wildcats hold off Bulldogs

By SUSAN RIDDELL State Journal Sports Writer Published:

LEXINGTON - The No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats got just what they needed Sunday versus No. 19 Mississippi State.

A close game down the stretch.

In the end, the Wildcats were able to extend the nation's longest winning streak, making it 16 in a row with a 70-62 win at Rupp Arena.

"It will be very beneficial as we finish the latter part of the season," UK coach Tubby Smith said of the close finish. "I felt like we were in control but I felt like we were feeling a little bit of the pressure."

Kentucky, now 21-3 overall and a perfect 12-0 in SEC play, won its first 11 conference games by an average of 15 points, but the Rebels were within five points with the ball several times late in the game.

Mario Austin's three-point play with 5:13 remaining pulled MSU to within five at 60-55. Erik Daniels then missed two fouls shots for Kentucky but the Bulldogs couldn't cut into the deficit. Timmy Bowers missed a three-pointer, Derrick Zimmerman missed a layup, and Austin missed the front end of the bonus - all during a three-minute span in which UK couldn't put the game out of reach.

The Wildcats made only three baskets the final 10 minutes of the game. One of those, a layup by Cliff Hawkins, made it 62-55. Marquis Estill added a free throw but Austin kept Mississippi State in it with five free throws. UK had countered with foul shots by Hawkins and a Gerald Fitch jumper and MSU never got closer than five points the rest of the way.

"Those trips you have to come away with something, especially on the road," Bulldog coach Rick Stansbury said. "But I'm proud of the way we battled back."

For more on this story, see the latest State Journal.

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