By LARRY VAUGHT
Auburn was more physical than Kentucky Saturday when the Tigers beat the Cats and coach John Calipari and his players all agreed about that.
Now the Cats have to literally try to “rebound” against another physical team Tuesday night when they host Mississippi State, a team that started SEC play 0-3 but has won its last five league games.
Reggie Perry had 24 points and 12 rebounds in an 86-73 win over Tennessee Saturday and is averaging 17.2 points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 75 percent at the foul line. He has 21 blocks in 21 games but also has 48 assists.
He’s had 20 or more points in seven of his last 10 games and has 12 double-doubles this season.
Perry knew Tennessee was trying to keep the ball away from him the first half and he concentrated on getting to the foul line, which he did 15 times and made 12. At Auburn, the Tigers concentrated on keeping the ball from Nick Richards and he got to the foul line just twice.
“I realized that they were really jumpy. They tried to keep the ball out of my hands, so I tried to get them off their feet,” Perry said after the Tennessee win.
“Don’t take him for granted, 24-12 every night is unbelievable. It’s unbelievable,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said.
Howland isn’t sure anyone, including Richards, in the SEC is playing better than Perry has been
“The last five games, he’s been dominant. He was very, very good for us at LSU. He’s playing great. The only game that he had a subpar game was where he got in foul trouble with the Oklahoma loss on the road by one. We still gave ourselves a chance to win that game with him in limited action,” Howland said.
Redshirt freshman D.J. Steward was 6-for-9 from the field against Tennessee and 4-for-5 from 3-point range. The Bulldogs have not lost a SEC game since Steward was inserted into the starting lineup.
“I’m just so happy for him because he puts an incredible amount of time in,” Howland said. “He does things that don’t show up (in the box score). He’s a phenomenal defensive player. He’s always drawing the best perimeter player that’s not the point guard and done a great job there. He’s getting better and better. Remember, he’s just a [redshirt] freshman. I’m really excited for him, and he’s huge for us.”
Nick Weatherspoon averages 12.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and almost five assists per game. He had 11 points, eight rebounds and a career-high nine assists against Tennessee.
“I thought Nick was just masterful, nine assists, two turnovers and eight rebounds,” Howland said.
Robert Woodward contributes 11.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
“He’s ‘Mr. Consistency’. He’s there for you every day being consistent. He was really good,” Howland said.
State shot 69 percent from the field in the second half against Tennessee and beating Tennessee on the boards by 15 (23-8) in the second half should be a huge warning sign for the Cats after the way they have been getting beat by teams on the offensive glass.
The Bulldogs also got to the foul line 30 times, another area where UK has be aware of what silly fouls can do.