#8 MSU Faces a Tough UAB Team on the Road

STARKVILLE, Miss. - Rewarded with their highest national wire service ranking since the team's 1995-96 Final Four campaign, the eighth-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs close out their 2002-03 non-conference, regular-season slate and ring in the new year by traveling to Birmingham to take on the UAB Blazers Thursday evening. Tip-off at Bartow Arena is set for 7 p.m.

Having climbed eight places to eighth nationally in this week's Associated Press poll and seven notches from 17th to 10th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll following last Saturday's 54-45 victory over then-fifth ranked Oklahoma at the Nokia Sugar Bowl Classic in New Orleans, coach Rick Stansbury's 9-1 Bulldogs have now rattled off nine consecutive wins including Monday's 85-74 road triumph over South Alabama. Boasting a current streak of six straight non-SEC road wins on the opponent's home floor dating back to the 2000-01 campaign, MSU concludes its current string of five successive games away from home with Thursday's contest at UAB. State has also recently posted neutral-site victories over Georgia State (78-54 in Jackson, Miss.) and nationally ranked Xavier (71-61 in New York).

During the 1995-96 regular season en route to earning the school's first-ever NCAA Final Four appearance, the Bulldogs were ranked eighth nationally in the AP poll during successive weeks (Nov. 27 & Dec. 4) of the team's non-SEC slate.

As a team offensively, Mississippi State enters the new calendar year leading the SEC in scoring margin (+19.9 ppg), along with ranking fourth in scoring offense (79.4 ppg) and fifth in field-goal percentage (48.2%). Having limited their last seven opponents to an average of only 55.1 points per game, including just 45 points by then-fifth ranked Oklahoma, the Bulldogs continue to pace the conference in both field-goal percentage defense (36.6%) and rebounding margin (+12.1 rpg). In addition, MSU ranks third in scoring defense (59.5 ppg) as well as second in both turnover margin (+2.80) and steals (10.3 spg).

Individually, State is powered by the inside game of junior all-America candidate Mario Austin, who tops the team in scoring (21.5 ppg) and rebounding (9.0 rpg), while also shooting 53 percent from the field and 86 percent from the line. On the perimeter, the Bulldog backcourt tandem of senior Derrick Zimmerman and junior Timmy Bowers continues to attract national attention. With Bowers ranked 10th in the SEC in scoring (16.2 ppg) and second in steals (2.7 spg), and Zimmerman listed among the Top 10 league leaders in both assists (5.5 apg) and steals (2.0 spg), MSU's team co-captains are currently combining to average 26.3 points, 8.9 assists, 8.1 rebounds and 4.7 steals per outing between them for the season.

Out of Conference USA, the UAB Blazers are 8-2 overall on the season after claiming first-place tournament honors this past weekend at the UTEP-hosted Sierra Providence SunClassic. Guided by first-year head coach and former Arkansas assistant Mike Anderson, the Blazers have won five straight games, including the recent tournament wins over Air Force (69-59) and Columbia (71-42) last weekend in El Paso, Texas. Junior guard Morris Finley leads a trio of double-figure UAB scorers at 18.5 points per game, in addition to shooting 46 percent from three-point range and 83 percent from the charity stripe on the year.

UAB owns a 4-1 all-time series lead over MSU through the years, including a current four-game series win streak against the Bulldogs. Most recently, the Blazers claimed a 66-63 overtime road win over State during the 1993-94 season.

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