No 20 MSU hosts No. 5 Kentucky Tuesday

STARKVILLE, Miss. - The 20th-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs (13-0, 2-0) play host to the 5th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats (10-1, 1-0) Tuesday evening on the MSU campus. As part of ESPN's "Super Tuesday" television package, tip-off for the game is set for 8 p.m. Making his first appearance at "The Hump" since State's 1995-96 Final Four campaign, Dick Vitale will provide his insightful color commentary, along with play-by-play specialist Dan Shulman and sideline reporter Doris Burke.

The lone remaining undefeated team in the Southeastern Conference and one of only seven unbeaten clubs left in the country at week's start, coach Rick Stansbury's 13-0 Bulldogs are off to their best start ever and are 2-0 in league play for the first time since the school's memorable 1995-96 Final Four season. Upon opening SEC action with a come-from-behind 61-54 road victory over in-state rival Mississippi last Wednesday, MSU claimed an 80-62 home triumph over SEC West foe Arkansas this past Saturday afternoon in the team's first action at Humphrey Coliseum since beating Xavier, 82-70, in Starkville back on Dec. 13.

Shooting for the top two single-season winning streaks in school history - 15 and 14 consecutive wins by the 1958-59 and 1961-62 State squads, respectively - the Bulldogs most recently established a new all-time Humphrey Coliseum record of 14 straight home wins dating back to last season with Saturday's 18-point victory over the Razorbacks. In addition, MSU enters Tuesday's contest against No. 5 Kentucky looking to snap a five-game losing skid against nationally ranked opponents in a streak that also dates back to last year.

Ranked second as a team in the league in both scoring defense (58.0 ppg) and scoring margin (+12.5 ppg) through the first week of conference competition, State has limited its last six opponents to an average of only 57.3 points per contest. Defensively for all games on the year, the Bulldogs presently rate second in the SEC in blocked shots (5.46 bpg), while ranking third as a team in both rebounding offense (40.9 rpg) and steals (10.15 spg).

Individually, preseason Wooden Award candidate Lawrence Roberts has taken over the team's scoring lead at 16.8 points per game (7th in the SEC) after hitting for a season-high 29 points against Arkansas. In adding 11 rebounds versus the Razorbacks, Roberts paces the SEC with nine double-doubles on the season and now has 31 for his career. The former Baylor transfer by way of Houston also ranks second in the league in rebounding (10.8 rpg) and fifth in field-goal percentage (58.2%). Senior All-Star candidate Timmy Bowers continues to rank among the SEC's Top 10 leaders in seven statistical categories, including scoring (15.8 ppg; 9th), assists (4.5 apg; 3rd) and made 3-pointers per game (2.3/gm; 4th). Standing three State wins shy of becoming the school's all-time winningest basketball player, MSU's team co-captain from Gulfport will be playing in his 100th career collegiate game Tuesday against Kentucky.

Ranked fifth nationally, Kentucky comes into its first true road game of the season sporting a 10-1 overall record after claiming a 75-63 home win over previously unbeaten Vanderbilt this past Saturday in Lexington. UK's lone setback of the current campaign was a 65-56 home loss to the Louisville Cardinals on Dec. 27. Guided by 2003 National Coach of the Year Tubby Smith, the Wildcats have won 18 consecutive regular-season conference games dating back to 2001-02, including last year's perfect 16-0 league mark on the way to winning both the SEC Tournament and regular-season championships.

This season, Kentucky features double-figure season scoring averages by all five starters. Preseason all-SEC senior guard Gerald Fitch leads the way at 17.6 points per outing to rank sixth in the SEC, followed by veteran forwards Erik Daniels and Chuck Hayes at 14.9 and 11.4 points a game, respectively.

The last three MSU-Kentucky hardwood meetings have been decided by an average margin of just 6.7 points per game, including State's improbable come-from-behind 74-69 overtime home win over the Wildcats two years ago in which the Bulldogs were down 30-10 in the first half and trailed 40-24 at the intermission.

Beginning with Tuesday's ESPN home encounter with Kentucky, the Bulldogs' next four games are all slated to be televised, including Saturday afternoon's contest at LSU (JP Sports). Next week, MSU plays at Florida on Wednesday (JP) and hosts Georgia on Saturday (JP).

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