"I'll probably know at game time," Stansbury said.
Mississippi State's starting center was not starting or even playing Saturday when the Bulldogs (19-8, 6-6 SEC) dropped a contest at Auburn. Sidney, who had not missed a game since November 25 and was playing more consistent minutes than ever in the last week, sat out the whole game with back spasms. His absence was crucial and perhaps even decisive in a 65-55 setback. Sidney had been providing State 10.4 points and 5.3 rebounds for the season.
Ironically, those were just about the margins Auburn held at the horn, winning the scoreboard by ten points and the rebounding battle by five. Further irony was how Sidney was coming off a three-game stretch averaging a season-high 29 minutes, though two of those went into overtimes.
What stings more to Stansbury though is how whether Sidney was playing or not his Bulldogs have dropped three-straight SEC games and in the process lost priceless ground in the league standings. Over an eight-day span Mississippi State has gone from one game out of second place in the SEC, to a four-way deadlock for fourth place. And, as a result, perilously close to losing the first round SEC Tournament bye day, something of obviously greater importance to a thin Bulldog squad than ever.
Sidney is a big, literally, piece the Dogs can't afford to have seated for this two-week stretch run.
"It's obvious we need his big body out there, especially with our lack of depth in the post," Stansbury said today. "We missed him Saturday, another guy who can go to the block and score, and his depth defensively." And that was against a back-of-pack Auburn team.
Now Stansbury has to get a team ready to play not just the runaway league leader but top-ranked club in the country. Kentucky brings a 12-0 SEC mark and overall 26-1 record to the Hump tomorrow. It isn't the sort of squad State would prefer playing to stop a three-loss skid. But then all objective opinions were that the Bulldogs wouldn't be on any sort of losing streak at all coming into this contest. That was before a still-startling upset at home in overtime by Georgia, a more understandable overtime loss at LSU, and Saturday's shorthanded setback.
Those losses have not only cost the Dogs conference status but dragged them a little too close to the proverbial NCAA selection bubble. For a team once ranked 15th nationally and playing for seeding and siteing, this has been a tough stretch to take. Stansbury can't control the opponent, he can only get his own team in the best possible position to play the best possible opponent out there at the moment.
Though, "Against Kentucky you can have the best mindset in the world and that's a difficult challenge," Stansbury pointed out. "When you're playing Kentucky you better hit on all cylinders and maybe do some things better than you've done."
All of which would become at least a bit more practical if Stansbury has all personnel available by Tuesday's tipoff. Until then, the coach and club go day-by-day and even hour-to-hour waiting and wishing the biggest Bulldog will be cleared for contact.
"It's obvious against Kentucky we don't just need his body, but need his body to play well for us to have any chance at all," Stansbury said.
Coach and players were to meet with media later Monday.