*Coach Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs bring a 6-2 record into the non-conference game, along with national rankings of #22 (Associated Press) and #23 (coaches/ESPN). They last played Sunday afternoon in Anaheim, Cal., losing to then-#21 Arizona in the John Wooden Classic. Both of State's defeats have been to ranked opponents, with the other loss to then-#5 Syracuse in the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic. The unranked Trojans are 4-3, having most recently defeated Southern Illinois at home Tuesday night.
About the Trojans
It wasn't all that long ago Arkansas-Little Rock was one of those ‘hyphenated' teams major-conference programs were rightfully cautious about. The Trojans have gone through some hard times early in the new century, but last year signaled hope of a return to better days. Promoted to head coach after four years as top assistant, and using players he had recruited, Steve Shields pulled off a remarkable turnaround. UALR finished 17-12 and won the Sun Belt Conference's Eastern Division title with a 9-5 record. Shields was named SBC Coach of the Year, the first time a rookie coach had done so. Now he is trying to keep that momentum with four starters and five more lettermen back. An optimistic schedule is taking an early toll, with losses at Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech by 25-point margins each time and a 64-51 setback at Southwest Missouri State. Still the Trojans have beaten the teams they are supposed to and by decisive scores. They have also stayed busy with three games since Dec. 3. Now UALR gets another shot at another major-league program with a ranking, and the visitors are not likely to be intimidated coming into The Hump. They're undersized and have rebounding troubles, but the Trojans do take good shots and are hitting 49.7% after seven games. The bigger Bulldogs will have to be on their game to steer clear of a homecourt upset.
Probable Starting Lineups
UALR: G Brandon Freeman, 6-2 SR, 15.9 ppg, 16 3ptrs; G Zach Graber, 5-11 SR, 4.0 ppg, 4.0 apg; C Darius Eason, 6-0 SR, 10.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg; F Richard Hardman, 6-6 SR, 8.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg; F Columbus Willis, 6-5 SR, 8.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg.
UALR Alternates: G Josh Jacobs, 6-6 SR, 1.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg; G Zach Wright, 6-2 SO, 9.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg.
Mississippi State: G Gary Ervin, 5-11 SO, 7.8 ppg, 4.3 apg; G Winsome Frazier, 6-4 SR, 14.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 21 3pts; C Marcus Campbell, 7-0 SR, 6.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg; F Lawrence Roberts, 6-9 SR, 14.7 ppg, 10.5 rpg; F Shane Power, 6-5 SR, 9.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 12 3pts.
Scoring: MSU 67.9 ppg, UALR 65.0 ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 59.4, UALR 65.3
Rebounding: MSU 41.4, UALR 31.0
Shooting: MSU 41.5%, UALR 49.7%
Defense: MSU 36.7%, UALR 44.6%
Three-Point Shooting: MSU 52 treys on 33.1%, UALR 31 treys on 38.8%
This is only the third meeting of the two programs, but the third in four years. Last season the Bulldogs visited Little Rock and had to scrap for a 68-58 win before starting SEC play. In 2002 State had an easier time of it, winning 93-81 in Starkville. But the series began with a Trojan win when then-Coach Wimp Sanderson's club hit a last-second shot for a 70-68 victory at The Hump in December 1996.
*Mississippi State is having some problems on offense here in the early season. But the Bulldogs are still stout on the other end of the court, and rank first in the SEC in both field-goal defense and rebounding. The 59-points allowed is fourth-best in the league this week.
*UALR does not face another SEC team this year, but State plays other Sun Belt squads this fall. The Bulldogs have already beaten South Alabama, and next Monday are at New Orleans. State teams are 40-10 over the years against the current Sun Belt roster, and Rick Stansbury is 12-2.
*State has a 13-game homecourt winning streak going in non-conference play. After Saturday, the Bulldogs will host one more non-SEC visitor at The Hump, Florida A&M on Dec. 20. This is the 30th season of play in Humphrey Coliseum.
*With three steals against Arizona, Winsome Frazier now ranks ninth on the MSU career list at 123 thefts. He just passed Greg Lockhart (122, 1986-89). Next up is Al Perry (1975-78) at 127. Frazier also has 120 career three-point goals, needing four to catch Antonio Jackson (2000-01) for seventh place.
*Shane Power has a MSU career three-point average of 44.4%, which ranks first among all Bulldogs who have attempted at least 100 treys. He is 48-of-108.
Arkansas-Little Rock hosts St. Bonaventure this Friday. Mississippi State leaves town Sunday for a Monday evening game at New Orleans.