Spotless MSU faces Kentucky in top 25 tilt

For the first time since the SEC Tournament Championship game, the undefeated Mississippi State Bulldogs and the once-beaten Kentucky Wildcats meet Tuesday in a top-billed league battle in Starkville.<P> Tip-off for the marquee match is set for 8 p.m. at Humphrey Coliseum. A sellout crowd will be joined by a national ESPN "Super Tuesday" audience.

No. 20 Mississippi State (13-0, 2-0 SEC) has gotten off to a magnificent start while setting a new school record for the most wins to open a season. The old mark of 11-0 was first set by the 1957-58 MSU team of legendary coach James Harrison "Babe" McCarthy and was tied by the 2001-02 edition of the Bulldogs of sixth-year head coach Rick Stansbury, who hasn't said a lot about the new record, but instead, has become tuned-in to the Kentucky Wildcats like a lot of other Maroon & White faithful.

"They're (Kentucky) one of the best teams in the country," said Stansbury, while addressing a media question of how good is MSU? "I think we're an average ball team right now. I think we have a chance to get better."

Stansbury said of his team, which hasn't played a top 25 team so far this season, "I guess Tuesday night we'll have a chance to play a pretty good basketball team.

"We're still going to take 'em one game at a time. Kentucky's next on our schedule Tuesday night a day earlier than normal.

"We're at home (The Hump) and there'll be a lot of energy out there. Our team will be ready to play," said Stansbury, a four-year letterman at Campbellsville, Ky., where he was inducted into the Campbellsville University Athletic Hall of Fame last May.

No. 5 Kentucky (10-1, 1-0 SEC) opened defense of its SEC regular-season and league tournament championship with 75-63 win Saturday night over previously-undefeated Vanderbilt at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.

Meanwhile, Mississippi State, defending SEC West champion and currently tied for the division lead with LSU, extended its league record to 2-0 with an 80-62 win Saturday over Arkansas, its first home appearance since Dec. 13 after six straight games on the road. The Bulldogs, winners of 14 straight home games, opened their conference slate with a 61-54 road win last Wednesday over instate rival Ole Miss.

Junior 6-9 forward Lawrence Roberts, a transfer from Baylor, scored a season-high 29 points in the win over the Razorbacks, one point off his career-high of 30 points scored against Texas as a freshman. The Houston, Tex., product posted his ninth "double-double" of the season against the Hogs and 30th of his career.

About the upcoming SEC test with Tubby Smith's Big Blue, the frontliner said Kentucky's a great team.

"It should be a great game and hopefully, we can come out and play a good game against a very good team," said Roberts.

Junior transfer from Iowa State Shane Power scored in double figures against the Hogs with 14 points while going 4-for-4 off the line. Winsome Frazier had nine points and five steals to add to his SEC lead going into the contest and 7-footer Marcus Campbell had eight points with 10 rebounds. Freshman Dietric Slater was on the floor nearly 10 minutes and had a couple of baskets.

Branden Vincent, one of the heroes in the comeback win over Ole Miss, said the Kentucky game is one of the toughest on the schedule and probably the toughest to date.

"I'm real excited about Tuesday night," said Vincent. "It's the kind of game that you wait for, anticipate. You know, lose sleep over because you can't wait to play and see how it turns out.

"Right now it's our next game on the schedule and we know we have to go out and play hard," added Vincent, who knows about intensity, if anyone does, with his inspired floor play.

The 6-8, 240 nimble but very physical frontliner, one of the fans favorites, said the home crowd plays an integral part in giving our team a boost.

"We love our fans and we love the support they give us," said Vincent, following a turnout of nearly 10,000 to see the Bulldogs take on the Razorbacks at The Hump in MSU last outing over the weekend.

Bulldog co-captain Timmy Bowers, the Dogs leading scorer entering the Arkansas game with a 16-point plus average, said the match with Kentucky would probably not be a high-scoring duel with both teams capable of applying a lot of pressure on defense.

"I don't look for a really high-scoring game because both teams will get after it on defense," said Bowers, who scored a game-high 18 points in MSU's SEC opener, 14 coming down the stretch run during the frenzied comeback.

"Kentucky doesn't have many weaknesses," said Bowers, former Mississippi Player of the Year at Harrison Central, Miss.

"They're going to play hard and we're going to play hard. It should be a great game, nationally televised," added Bowers. "What more can you ask?"

Kentucky was led by Gerald Fitch, Kelenna Azubuike and Erik Daniels with the trio scoring 16 points each in its win over previously undefeated and No. 20-ranked Vandy. Fitch had a career-high six assists. Talented Cliff Hawkins also helped spark the Cats, who committed 23 turnovers, but held off a second-half rally by the 'Dores, off to their best start in school history.

The Wildcats edged the Maroon & White 64-57 in the last meeting between the two teams in the SEC Championship game last spring in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

Mississippi State defeated Kentucky 74-69 in overtime in the last meeting in Starkville during the 2001-02 campaign.

As ESPN's "Superstar" Dick Vitale might yell, yell, yell: "Baby ... hold onto your seat, this one may Rock The Hump!"

ESPN's Dick Vitale visiting Starkville-MSU

Dick Vitale, the hilariously funny and popular ESPN college basketball announcer, will sign copies of his new book, "Dick Vitale's Living a Dream: Reflection on 25 Years Sitting in the Best Seat in the House," on Tuesday at the Mississippi State University Bookstore.

Vitale will sign copies of his book for fans from 2:30 p.m. until 4 p.m. at the bookstore located on the first floor of the Colvard Student Union.

The ESPN hoops keynoter will be in Starkville to broadcast the Tuesday night men's Kentucky-MSU game at Humphrey Coliseum.

"Whiteout the Wildcats"

MSU students are calling for all fans to wear white when Mississippi State hosts Kentucky in the Humphrey Coliseum live on ESPN. The game, which is sold out, pits the 20th ranked 13-0 Bulldogs against a 5th ranked Wildcat team that defeated previously unbeaten Vanderbilt this past weekend.

"The excitement level for this game is incredible", said Assistant AD for Marketing Mike Richey. "(Monday) morning the line for student tickets stretched from the Bryan Building nearly all the way to the Hump. It was unbelievable.

"Students from Rick's Rowdies asked us to help them get the word out about the 'White Out' so I hope that everyone who is coming to the game will join the Bulldogs in their 'home whites'. It's a great way to support the team."


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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