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Big Second Half Pushes UK Over Miss. State, 85-63

This story appears courtesy of KY Forward and is written by James Pennington. KY Forward's coverage of UK Athletics is sponsored by Republic Bank.

John Calipari has championed James Young all season—he certainly did so aggressively at the beginning of the year, calling him the best shooter in the country on more than one occasion during the preseason and exhibition calendar—but only recently has Young begun to prove just how much he’s worth to the Wildcats.

He had 26 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block in No. 14 Kentucky’s 85-63 win over Mississippi State, a Bulldogs team that held a 40-37 halftime lead despite being the fourth-worst team Kentucky has and will play all season according to KenPom.com’s team ratings.* Young had 15 points in the first half, buoying an offense essentially dormant for the first five minutes of the game (Kentucky’s first field goal was a Dominique Hawkins jumper with 15:05 to play) until it broke out in the second half.

It was Young’s best game as a college player yet. He was awfully impressive last time out against Louisville—he had 18 points and 10 boards, his first double-double, but he was still overshadowed by Andrew Harrison’s performance. But Wednesday was his. He was 8-of-18 from the field, yes, and 3-of-10 from the 3-point line. Those aren’t great shooting numbers, but for a team, and especially perimeter players, who have been criticized for allowing bad plays to turn into negative body language, Young does not let it get to him.

“Missing shots doesn’t faze me. Good shooters always have to keep shooting and eventually you’re going to get in a rhythm,” Young said. “That’s what I just try doing. I just try not to think about missing any shots or my past shots that I’ve missed; just keep going on with the game.”

This is what makes Kentucky—or, perhaps more aptly, The Idea of Kentucky—so dangerous: Slow starts and flat halves can be thrown out almost instantly, immediately forgotten, because a player can do what Young did Wednesday. And he did it almost unremarkably. Fans noticed, because fans notice everything, but he wasn’t hitting a bunch of threes. He took his points methodically, getting seven at the free-throw line in nine attempts.

He rebounded more, too, something Calipari has been asking him to do (he had 10 rebounds in his last game, too, his career high). Willie Cauley-Stein only had four rebounds, a sign that Young is mixing it up in the middle and not simply grabbing long rebounds from outside the paint.

“We like him being that aggressive,” assistant coach John Robic said. “I can’t think of any of the 18 shots that were bad or forced shots. James is a scorer. I mean, if he has it going, he has it going. And he has that green light to shoot the ball. I mean, if he’s down and ready like I just mentioned, shoot the thing, becauase he’s one of the better shooters, and he’s just a slasher-scorer. And we need those baskets.”

Photo: James Young had 26 points and 10 rebounds in Kentucky’s 85-63 win over Mississippi State on Wednesday. (Photo by James Pennington)