STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Seeking their best start since the 1961-62 basketball campaign, the Mississippi State Bulldogs begin a busy pre-Christmas stretch of their non-conference schedule by taking on Louisiana-Monroe Saturday afternoon in Southaven, Miss. Tipping off the inaugural Las Vegas Classic, the MSU-ULM contest is set to begin at 2 p.m. at the DeSoto Civic Center.

Tickets can be purchased in advance of Saturday's game in Southaven by contacting the DeSoto Civic Center at 1-888-280-9120 or (662) 470-2131. The DCC Box Office will open at 12:30 p.m. on game day. MSU knocked off Southeastern Louisiana, 78-58, last season (Dec. 18) in Southaven.

In a rare occurrence, coach Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs will head immediately to Atlanta after Saturday's game to take on reigning NCAA Tournament participant Georgia State Sunday afternoon at the Philips Arena. Tip-off for Game 1 of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Classic for Kids, pitting MSU and GSU, is set for 3:15 p.m. EST. The first-ever meeting between the Bulldogs and Panthers will be televised regionally by FOX Sports Net South. The nightcap of Sunday's college basketball doubleheader in Atlanta will have Georgia Tech meeting Syracuse beginning at 6 p.m. EST.

One of only 10 undefeated teams remaining in NCAA Division I men's basketball at week's end, the Bulldogs enter this weekend's competition sporting an unblemished 8-0 record after claiming a 91-83 home victory over Arkansas State last Saturday. The last time an MSU club opened a season with at least nine straight wins was the 1961-62 campaign, when coach Babe McCarthy's squad raced to a 10-0 start en route to posting a 24-1 overall record and claiming a share of the SEC championship. The current school standard for best season-opening win streak is an 11-0 start by McCarthy's 1957-58 State contingent.

Entering this weekend's action ranked sixth in the nation in team field-goal percentage (51.1%), the Bulldogs are averaging a league-best 83.0 points per game on the season. Defensively, MSU is limiting the opposition to an average of 64.6 points per contest on 38.6 percent collective field-goal shooting. Individually, senior Marckell Patterson leads a trio of double-figure Bulldog scorers at 18.3 points an outing for fifth best among the SEC's leading point producers. Sophomore Mario Austin and junior Michal Ignerski follow at 16.3 and 11.4 points per contest, respectively. In addition to pacing the league in field-goal percentage (58.5%), Austin ranks ninth in the SEC in scoring (16.2 ppg) and fifth in rebounding (8.2 rpg). Junior guard Derrick Zimmerman began the week ranked fifth among the NCAA's leading playmakers at a league-high 7.5 assists a game, along with averaging 9.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals per contest on the season.

Guided by veteran coach Mike Vining, the Indians of the University of Louisiana at Monroe are 3-3 overall and 1-1 in league play after dropping an 81-73 Southland Conference road decision to Sam Houston State this past Thursday. ULM is led in scoring by seniors Brian Lubeck and Nick Coln at 14.5 and 14.3 points, respectively. A native of Corinth and a former Northeast Mississippi Community College standout, Coln also ranks among the nation's leading three-point shooters at 48 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Senior center Wojciech Myrda, one of the NCAA's top shot-blockers at 5.2 rejects per outing, also averages 9.3 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds a game.

The Panthers of Georgia State, directed by coaching legend Charles "Lefty" Driesell, are 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the new Atlantic Sun Conference after claiming an 85-71 home triumph over league foe Campbell University this past Wednesday. With the win earlier this week, Driesell moved into a fourth-place tie (with Hank Iba) on the NCAA's all-time wins list with 767 career victories in 40 years of coaching. Having also beaten in-state rival Georgia (83-78) earlier this month, GSU features five players averaging in double figures on the season. Senior forward Thomas Terrell, a native of Brookhaven and a former standout at Copiah-Lincoln Community College, is the team's leading scorer (19.6 ppg) and rebounder (6.0 rpg) for the year. Sophomore center Nate Williams and junior guard Leroy Davis follow at 13.7 and 12.3 points per contest, respectively.

MSU owns a 9-2 all-time series lead, including a five-game win streak, over Louisiana-Monroe, though the two teams haven't met on the hardwood since the Bulldogs' Final Four season of 1995 96. Sunday's contest against Georgia State will mark the first-ever meeting between the two teams.

Following this weekend's back-to-back games, the Bulldogs will resume their busy stretch of five games in eight days by heading to Las Vegas for the remaining portion of the Las Vegas Classic. With the tournament venue set for Dec. 20-22 at Valley High School in suburban Las Vegas, MSU will meet the Richmond Spiders next Thursday in second-round tournament action (2:30 p.m. PST). State won at Richmond, 71-57, earlier this month. The Bulldogs will then take on the Cincinnati Bearcats during next Friday's third-round play (5 p.m. PST) before concluding tournament competition next Saturday.

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