LEXINGTON, Kentucky (Ticker) Kentucky let a big first-half lead evaporate. Patrick Sparks and Chuck Hayes made sure that didn't happen after intermission.
Sparks scored 11 of his 14 points after the break and Hayes contributed seven during an early run as third-ranked Kentucky rolled to a 94-78 victory over Southeastern Conference rival Mississippi State.
After watching a 12-point lead trimmed to 46-43 at the half, the Wildcats came out strong for the second 20 minutes. Sparks connected on a pair of 3-pointers as Kentucky scored the first 10 points.
Sparks also wowed the crowd at Rupp Arena with an acrobatic no-look layup that seemed to typify Mississippi State's second half.
"I didn't look at the goal," he said. "I just threw it up - really. I'm just glad to make some threes. That layup was a bonus."
Any hopes of another comeback by the Bulldogs was dashed when Hayes added seven of his 14 points during a 15-0 burst that gave the SEC West Division-leading Wildcats (20-3, 11-1) a 73-49 lead with 10:40 to go.
The defense really turned up the pressure in the second half by coming up with nine steals in the period - seven by Rajon Rondo, who tied the school record with eight steals in a game. The team finished with 16 steals en route to forcing 23 turnovers while committing only nine.
"I thought our guys came out in the second half and did a better job of defending the ball," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "We played the game the right way. We moved the ball and passed the ball."
"Once that dam broke a little bit, it started a leak and kept leaking more and more and more," Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said. "When that started to happen, his (Rondo) energy just kept going up. We made some careless passes. I give him credit, he's one of the best steal guys in the SEC."
To make matters worse for Mississippi State, reigning SEC Player of the Year Lawrence Roberts had to leave with 7:05 remaining after hurting his right knee while diving for a loose ball.
"I don't know yet (about Roberts' condition)," Stansbury said. "We'll have to wait until we get back and evaluate him and see. We don't think it's an ACL. We think it's a broken knee. We'll have to wait and see."
Randolph Morris, who scored 17, got Kentucky going early by scoring six of his team's first eight points and then giving the Wildcats their biggest first-half edge, 27-15, with a layup with 10:43 remaining.
"He's playing well," said Smith of Morris. "He did a good job with his inside presence and that really helped us today, especially with the physical play. He creates problems for people and he's starting to take the ball to the basket."
With Roberts on the bench because of foul trouble, Mississippi State (18-8, 6-6) responded with a 19-6 burst. Shane Powers scored six of his 14 points during the surge and Gary Ervin capped the run with a three-point play to give the Bulldogs their only lead, 34-33, with 6:22 left.
Roberts' foul trouble and injury limited the 6-9 senior to just seven points in 19 minutes.
"We wanted to to try and really go at him early in the game and get him in foul trouble," Smith said. "I think Chuck (Hayes) did a good job for the most part."