MSU Men's Team Faces BWBA Tonight at 7 p.m.

STARKVILLE, Miss. - Ranked 13th nationally in the preseason ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll, the Mississippi State Bulldogs play host to the Branch West Basketball Academy of California Saturday evening in their 2002-03 exhibition opener. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at MSU's Humphrey Coliseum, and there will be no charge for admission.

Established in 1991 and now in its third season of fielding a college exhibition team, the Branch West Basketball Academy is one of the most prestigious year-round basketball schools for developing players' offensive skills in the Southern California area. This year's BWBA squad consists of 10 former collegiate standouts from throughout the country.

Coached by former NCAA Division I head coach Bob Gottlieb, who coached previously at Jacksonville and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, this year's BWBA contingent is winless in two attempts during the team's current seven-game, two-week exhibition tour. Slated to play at Lamar Friday night in Beaumont, Texas, the touring squad dropped decisions on the road to San Diego State (83-72) and Miami of Ohio (91-76) this past Wednesday and Monday, respectively. BWBA's exhibition tour will continue next week at UCLA (Nov. 13), Marshall (Nov. 16) and Oklahoma State (Nov. 18).

Last season (Nov. 3, 2001), the Bulldogs opened their 2001-02 exhibition basketball slate by claiming a 110-89 home victory over BWBA of California. While making his MSU playing debut, Michal Ignerski paced six double-figure State scorers a year ago against the Branch West Basketball Academy with 16 points on 7-of-9 field-goal shooting. The former junior college all-American also added eight rebounds, as the Bulldogs maintained a commanding 55-32 rebounding advantage over BWBA. All-SEC standouts Mario Austin and Derrick Zimmerman added 14 points apiece a year ago during Mississippi State's exhibition opener.

Beginning his fifth season at the Mississippi State helm, Rick Stansbury returns eight lettermen, including three starters, from last year's school-record 27-8 squad that captured the 2002 SEC Tournament championship and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Midwest Regional bracket in Dallas. Expected to be paced by the veteran trio of Austin, Zimmerman and Ignerski, along with junior guard and team co-captain Timmy Bowers, the Bulldogs welcome back 72 percent of their scoring production and 68 percent of the team's rebounding totals from last season.

MSU continues exhibition basketball action next Thursday (Nov. 14) by welcoming the Harlem Globetrotters to Starkville in the midst of their nine-game, 18-day 2002 Fall College Tour. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at MSU's Humphrey Coliseum, and tickets are available at $12 apiece. The Bulldogs tip off their 91st season of collegiate basketball competition with a six-game homestand by first playing host to Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, Nov. 23.

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