No. 7 MSU looks to bounce back down stretch

Four regular-season games remain for league-leading Mississippi State, all Southeastern Conference engagements. The home stretch begins Wednesday with the dangerous LSU Tigers charging into town.<P> Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at The Hump. The game is a sellout like most of MSU's home games since early in the campaign. Jefferson-Pilot will televise the SEC bout.

It's a home match, but surprisingly, that's where both of the Bulldogs' losses have been administered this campaign, a one-point setback by Kentucky and a four-point loss by Alabama this past weekend in Starkville.

Oddly enough, the 77-73 defeat at the hands of the Crimson Tide, snapping MSU's eight-game SEC win streak, came following a midweek open date.

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, who must be wondering if the break before the last game was beneficial, said the last four games are big.

"As the season begins winding down, the magnitude of the next four games is even more huge because of the shape the league has taken."

No. 7 Mississippi State (21-2, 10-2 Southeastern Conference) would love nothing better than to reverse that trend. And the sooner the better. The Bulldogs have compiled a perfect 10-0 record this season away from home.

Despite having dropped their only two games of the season on their home floor, the Dogs are anxious to get back on the court. One of the preseason league favorites, LSU (17-6, 7-5 SEC) furnishes the opposition.

The Bulldogs, who fell three slots in the Associated Press Men's Top 25 Poll following the 77-73 loss Saturday to Alabama, take on an LSU club that's been in and out of the polls this season. John Brady's bunch has played awfully tough at times.

"We have to dismiss the Alabama game and concentrate on LSU," said junior guard Winsome Frazier, who again scored in double figures against the Tide despite not having one of his better games from the fielf (3-of-13).

Frazier was coming off a 23-point outing in State's impressive 77-70 road win at Arkansas the previous Saturday when he drilled 7-of-12 from the floor and 5-of-10 from beyond the arc.

"We've got to put the Alabama game behind us with LSU coming in Wednesday. We have to be prepared for a very good LSU team," said Frazier.

Defending SEC West champion Mississippi State and LSU met earlier in Baton Rouge, La., with the Bulldogs emerging 64-54 in a tough physical battle at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Ranked No. 24 in the previous poll, LSU was ambushed by Vanderbilt 74-54 this past Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., where Mississippi State has a Feb. 28th road stop.

"Brady's Bunch" was playing without leading scorer and rebounder Jaime Lloreda whol was sidelined for the SEC East vs. West match at Music City, after aggravating a lower leg injury earlier in the week at Auburn. Antonio Hudson led the Tigers with 18 points and seven rebounds in the absence of Lloreda.

In Lloreda and MSU's 6-9 center-forward Lawrence Roberts, the SEC West bout will feature two of the best big men, not only in the SEC, but in the country.

A national finalist for the Wooden, Naismith, and Rupp Player of the Year Awards, Roberts is pacing the Bulldogs in scoring with 17.4 points per game, just a shade better than Lloreda at 17.2 ppg. However, the LSU frontliner ranks first in the SEC in rebounding just ahead of the MSU transfer.

"LSU has a tough inside game so we are going to have to play with energy against a very good team," said Roberts, who was held under his average by the Tigers in the first meeting.

Freshman guard Gary Ervin, who had 11 points in his last outing against 'Bama, scored 13 points in the first meeting against LSU, hitting 5-of-9 from the field and 2-of-3 off the line.

One of the conference leaders in scoring, the Bulldogs also get double-figure production from senior co-captain Timmy Bowers, one of 16 finalists for the inaugural Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award.

Bowers is averaging over 15 points a game and ranks 18th on MSU's all-time scoring list with 1,202 career points. Frazier is averaging 12.4 ppg while Shane Power is averaging 8.9 ppg. Branden Vincent, who had 10 rebounds against 'Bama, is averaging over seven rebounds a game and approximately seven points a game.

In addition to Hudson and Lloreda, if he's recovered enough to play, the Dogs will have to try and contain long-range shooter Darrel Mitchell, who scored 12 points against Vandy, and outstanding first-year player Brandon Bass.

Mississippi State has a one game lead over Kentucky (19-4, 9-3 SEC) in the overall league race while pacing the SEC West by three games over second place LSU.

"LSU has beat Alabama twice, so they'll probably come here with a lot of confidence, thinking why can't we?" theorized MSU's Bowers. "So we have to be prepared."

Following the midweek visit by the Bayou Bengals, Mississippi State travels to Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs close out their regular season by returning home March 2 to face Auburn and traveling March 6 to Tuscaloosa for a rematch with Alabama.


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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