MSU big man Charles Rhodes, scored eight points but pulled down 12 big rebounds in that game, something center Randolph Morris remembers well, "He's very athletic, you know, and low blocks, likes to use his athleticism to score," Morris said, "He likes to run the court and rebounds aggressively. So I'm just going to try to match his energy."
Since that game Mississippi State, like Kentucky, has faced some difficult times down the stretch. The Bulldogs lost two of its last three regular season games and backed into its second place finish in the SEC West with an 8-8 league record. Their last win, however, was a 24-point home victory over the Crimson Tide, the team Kentucky beat on Thursday.
One potentially big difference for the Cats coming into Friday's game could be Jodie Meeks, who was scoreless in just 15 minutes of play against the Dogs back in January. Since that game, the freshman sensation has scored in double digits 10 of the last 14 games, including the last five in a row. Meeks had 12 points on 4-6 shooting (2-3 3-pt) and four rebounds against the Tide on Thursday.
"He's instant offense when he comes in there," said Tubby Smith. "He's got it, he's tough, he plays with a lot of emotion, plays with a lot of heart, and he can score in many ways; he can make the outside shot, he's a very good ball handler, he's defending better. So I really like the way he's handled and conducted himself all year long. I knew he was mature enough physically, but he's shown a lot of mental and psychological maturity. "
Another problem Mississippi State may face is handling Randolph Morris who seems to be playing energized basketball back in his home town of Atlanta. "Randolph is a very well rounded player," Smith said, "He's got excellent offensive skills. When he just catches it and makes a quick move and attacks the basket, he's hard to stop. Not many people can guard him one on one. He draws a double-team like he did tonight. And he'll do that most of the time, because I think people feel like he is our inside presence."
Morris had 17 points and six rebounds in Kentucky's first meeting with MSU. He recorded his 9th double double of the season on Thursday against Alabama.
For Kentucky, Smith needs to figure out how to slow down Jamont Gordon, who has been lighting it up for the Bulldogs all season long. Gordon has scored in double digits in 14 of his last 15 games and has been rebounding and dishing assists with consistency. "He's probably the toughest match up for us," Smith said, "He's strong, he's a lefty. You don't see many lefties. So when you have to play a guy like him, who can make the jump shot with range, can put it on the floor, makes everybody better. You know, he's one of those unique players that has the ability to find guys open, force help. Just watching him play, I've been very, very impressed from the first time we saw him play. Containing him would be critical."
Gordon recently dropped in the coveted "triple double" in a win against Vanderbilt, scoring 15 points, dishing 10 assists and collecting 12 rebounds. "He's big and strong, so you if you put a big guy on him, he goes by them. If you put a smaller, quicker guy, he's usually overpowers him. So he's got the complete package. But there's a lot of people that go along with him, too. That's why they're winning. They're winning because they have a lot of balance. Like today, looking back on it, we had a tough time with them in Lexington, so it's a neutral court. We have to have a great effort.