No. 24 MSU Bulldogs on road again

On the road for a fourth straight outing, nationally-ranked Mississippi State packs up this week for a trip to Arkansas-Little Rock, the undefeated Bulldogs first appearance of the New Year.<P> Breaking into the the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time this season, Mississippi State takes on UALR of the Sun Belt Conference, Saturday, Jan. 3 at North Little Rock, Ark. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Alltel Arena.

It marks the No. 24-ranked Bulldogs final non-conference game before opening SEC play Wednesday, Jan. 7 at Oxford, Miss., against instate rival Ole Miss.

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, while delighted with the Dogs perfect record, is quick to remind his team that the date with Arkansas-Little Rock will be a key road test.

"Let's not forget about our game with Arkansas-Little Rock this weekend," said Stansbury when reminded MSU's 2003-04 SEC opener against Ole Miss is just around the corner. First Stansbury addressed the most pressing concern.

"Anytime you go on the road, it's a challenge," said Stansbury of the upcoming date at Alltel Arena with the Trojans, who've won six of their last nine games and stand 6-5 on the campaign. The Trojans opened the season with road losses to Arizona State (89-72) and St. Bonaventure (89-75).

Mississippi State extended its season-opening win streak to 10-0 with an impressive 72-50 win over Tulane at the Nokia Sugar Bowl Basketball Classic this past Saturday in New Orleans and now goes for a record-tying 11th straight win to open the season.

One of only 13 undefeated teams remaining in NCAA Division 1, the Bulldogs came out sizzling in their last outing against the Green Wave keyed by a slam dunk by Lawrence Roberts on MSU's opening possession.

A former All-Big 12 player at Baylor before transferring to Mississippi State for his junior campaign, Roberts finished with a game-high 15 points in a well-balanced scoring attack followed by a 14-point outing by senior co-captain Timmy Bowers, now a member of MSU's 1,000-point club after his latest performance.

One of the SEC leaders in steals, junior guard Winsome Frazier added 10 points. The Dogs had a season-high 15 steals while Frazier tied his career-best with five.

MSU's Branden Vincent had an outstanding floor game with nine rebounds, five points and two assists. Freshman guard Gary Ervin had eight points along with a solid floor game. Shane Power added seven points. Marcus Campbell played well and Lincoln Smith contributed.

Stansbury got to play a lot of people off the bench with Wesley Morgan getting a pair of baskets on 2-of-2 shooting from the floor. Dietric Slater and Dennis Buse broke into the scoring column. Errol Bennett, Billy Begley, Michael Boler and Piotr Stelmach also played.

"We got to play a lot of people. We played with confidence and we shared the basketball well," said Stansbury.

The Bulldogs now look to match the school's all-time mark for most consecutive wins to open a season when the Maroon and White travel to North Little Rock.

However, the Dogs, who have had some intriguing battles with UALR including the Wimp Sanderson-coached Trojans, catch Steve Shields' momentum-building squad following an impressive 82-56 win over Louisiana-Monroe Tuesday night at Alltel Arena, the site of last year's SEC Women's Tournament which saw Sharon Fanning's MSU Lady Dogs make a strong bid to win the annual tourney.

Arkansas-Little Rock made a 22-point turnaround in its last game against Louisiana-Monroe. The Trojans, who lost to the Indians 73-69 in the first meeting this season, won by a 26-point margin, 82-56, in the rematch. Arkansas-Little Rock enjoyed a 35-point advantage midway the second half.

UALR's Richard Hardman had his third "double-double" of the season, tossing in 23 points while pulling down 10 rebounds. Four Trojans scored in double figures with Brandon Freeman pitching in 14, while Kimmo Muurinen and Zack Wright scoring 10 each. Darrius Eason had 10 rebounds.

Mississippi State defeated Louisiana-Monroe, 76-52, after leading by just six points at halftime, 37-31, in the Bulldogs' fifth game of the 2003-04 campaign, Dec. 3, at Humphrey Coliseum.

The 2001-02 Bulldogs of Stansbury previously matched the 11-0 start first established by coach Babe McCarthy's 1957-58 MSU club en route to setting a new all-time, single-season school record with 27 wins two years ago.

The series with UALR is tied at 1-1 with MSU winning 93-81 in the last meeting in 2001 at The Hump. In the only other meeting, Arkansas-Little Rock edged the Bulldogs 70-68 in Starkville during MSU's Final Four campaign in 1995-96 under then head coach Richard Williams.

Lady Bulldogs host Fightin' Illini Jan. 4...

Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning's Lady Bulldogs return home after a two-game West Coast road swing to take on the Fightin' Ilini of Illinois Sunday, Jan. 4 at Humphrey Coliseum.

It will mark the Lady Bulldogs first appearance of the New Year after dropping a couple of tough decisions to UNLV, 62-51, last Sunday at Las Vegas, Nev., and to previously Top 25-ranked UC Santa Barbara, 69-62, Tuesday at Santa Barbara, Calif.

The Lady Bulldogs will tip-off at noon against Illinois joined by a national CBS Television audience. A good turnout could give the Lady Dogs, who have showed signs of breaking out of an early-season slump, a tremendous boost, according to the MSU coaching staff of Fanning, Stacey Franklin, Steve Curtis and Errol Rogers.

"We would like to invite all MSU Lady Bulldog fans to come on out to The Hump and help cheer the Maroon and White on," said Fanning. "We need our fans. The fans make a huge difference."

One of the top players in the country, MSU preseason all-Star candidate Tan White has scored 53 points in the last two games on the West Coast, including a career-best 31 points against Nevada-Las Vegas. The Tupelo, Miss., product appears to be fully recovered from some nagging injuries that lingered into the start of the season.


Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer who is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, writes a weekly article for Gene's Page. He can be reached by email at sdnsport@netdoor.com


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