Kentucky ended its six-game losing skid Saturday with a 78-73 win over Mississippi State, and everything about it was dramatic. John Calipari was ejected from the game after earning two quick second-half technicals; redshirt freshman Dontaie Allen turned in a Stephen Curry-like performance; and two overtime periods were needed to settle the final score.
Calipari's auto-ejection might've been the catalyst UK needed to spark a run and snap the losing streak. The Wildcats were trailing by six points in the middle of the second half when he complained about a no-call that got him booted. Subsequent free throws from Mississippi State extended UK's deficit to nine, but the Wildcats quickly reeled off a 7-0 run and ended the second period on a 15-6 run post-ejection to force OT.
Then things went bananas. Allen, a redshirt freshman who had played just 19 total minutes all season -- scored a game-high (and career-high) 23 points off the bench. Allen went 7 of 11 from 3-point range and made 6-of-9 shots from deep in the second half and overtime periods.
Kentucky's weakness all season has been perimeter shooting -- or lack thereof -- and Allen's pedigree as a shooter has allowed him to grow into a mythical deity of sorts among Kentucky fans. Yet Calipari has insisted the in-state product wasn't ready for his moment, and that it may come soon. Now it appears UK's biggest weakness may have been addressed with a performance that can't be ignored and a talent that can't be put aside any longer.
"I can't do stuff for kids that they have to do for themselves," Calipari said after the game of Allen. "Like, Dontaie had to do this. He had to work his way. And now he's earned that spot."
No team has ever made the NCAA Tournament after a 1-6 start -- Kentucky's record before Saturday's victory -- but no team has the talent and potential of Kentucky, either. Allen won't be a 23-points-per-night player, but his threat as a 3-point scorer and floor-spacer could very well change the dynamics of this team for the better. Too soon to tell. But 2-6 is a whole lot more palatable than 1-7, and momentum is a dangerous drug Kentucky's now got -- perhaps for the first time all season -- in spades.
"We're 1-0," Calipari said. "We used preseason to get us ready for league play. And you know what? It got us ready."