Kentucky head coach John Calipari appears to have finally found the right tone with this group of Wildcats.
PJ Washington had 21 points and Tyler Herro added 18, leading Kentucky to a 76-55 win over Mississippi State at Rupp Arena on Tuesday.
The Wildcats have now won five straight games and are 5-1 in SEC play. Their defense held Mississippi State to 31.1 percent from the floor. The Bulldogs were essentially a one-man show, led by a 19-point effort from Quinndary Weatherspoon.
Mississippi State has now lost three of its first five games in conference play and will likely drop out of the Top 25 next week.
Kentucky Defense Will Decide National Title Hopes
Kentucky doesn't have the offensive firepower to keep up with elite teams. The Wildcats' egalitarian approach to scoring keeps their scoring at a relatively consistent rate; they are currently a solid 20th in offensive efficiency, per KenPom.com.
But this team has no go-to scorer when games come down to the wire. Any of the Kentucky starters are capable of carrying the team one night and laying a complete egg the next. Washington was averaging 8.8 points over his last four games before Tuesday's breakout.
There's a reason two of Kentucky's three losses have come by one score. There's no John Wall or De'Aaron Fox or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to put the ball on the deck and get the team a bucket when it counts.
The only way the Wildcats are going to make a deep run in March is using their athletic advantage and coming together cohesively on the defensive end. It's clear Kentucky is starting to get there. Mississippi State shot an ugly 3-of-20 from beyond the arc and looked completely outgunned from a physical standpoint.
This is the third time in four games the Wildcats have bullied their opponents on the defensive end. Vanderbilt and Georgia scored a combined 96 points in ugly losses to them earlier this month.
After years of being the nation's glitziest team, Kentucky is essentially a bully-ball outfit. The Wildcats glamour has transferred over to Duke, with Mike Krzyzewski besting Calipari time and again on the recruiting trail.
This Kentucky team isn't as fun as years past, but the Wildcats can make a deep run if they embrace their new identity.
Performance vs. Elite Competition Shows MSU Not an SEC Contender
Mississippi State's 12-1 start created some dreams of a deep March run.
Conference play has all but ended that entirely.
The Bulldogs were sitting as a No. 7 seed in Joe Lunardi's latest bracket and can probably expect their seed line to come down after that dispiriting performance. Mississippi State's best win is over Florida, which is ranked No. 24 in KenPom rankings but is 11-7 on the season.
The Bulldogs have lost their only two games against teams currently ranked in the Top 25, and things could get ugly quick. Four of their next five games are against ranked teams before a bit of a breather stretch the last couple of weeks of February.
It's possible Mississippi State is 3-7 in the conference after its rematch with Kentucky on Feb. 9.
Regardless, it's clear this is much more of a bubble team than a sleeper SEC Championship contender it looked like during nonconference play.
Kentucky hosts No. 9 Kansas on Saturday. Mississippi State hosts No. 16 Auburn.