MSU and LSU Face Off Saturday Night

STARKVILLE, Miss. - Tabbed with their highest national AP ranking in 40 years, the seventh-ranked Bulldogs of Mississippi State hit the SEC road for the first time this season by traveling to Baton Rouge to take on the LSU Tigers Saturday evening. Tip-off for the 181st renewal of the MSU-LSU roundball series is set for 7 p.m. at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Also rated eighth nationally in this week's ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, coach Rick Stansbury's 10-2 Bulldogs most recently had their 10-game winning streak snapped by dropping a 74-66 home decision to 11th-ranked Florida this past Tuesday in front of 10,541 fans at MSU's Humphrey Coliseum. The eight-point loss to the Gators earlier in the week also halted State's 12-game win string in SEC season openers that had spanned back to the 1990-91 campaign, as well as having ended the team's five-game winning streak against nationally ranked opponents which had dated back to last season.

As a team, Mississippi State continues to lead the SEC in scoring margin (+17.3 ppg) and rebounding margin (+11.6 rpg), having entered the current week ranked 11th and third, respectively, among the NCAA's Division I statistical leaders. While also presently standing second in the SEC in field-goal percentage defense (37.4%) and fourth in scoring defense (60.1 ppg), the Bulldogs were rated seventh and 13th nationally in the respective defensive categories through Monday's games.

Individually, all-America candidate Mario Austin paces the Bulldogs with team-leading averages of 20.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game after recording his ninth career double-double (second of the season) with 22 points and a career-high 16 boards Tuesday night against Florida. The reigning SEC Tournament MVP was recently tabbed by as the nation's No. 1-rated center. Junior guard Timmy Bowers enters the weekend rated among the league's top-12 leaders in five different statistical categories, including 12th in scoring average (15.2 ppg) and third in steals (2.3 spg). Seniors Michal Ignerski (10.1 ppg) and Derrick Zimmerman (9.8 ppg) are also currently scoring at or near double figures on the season.

Receiving votes in both polls this week after having been ranked among the nation's Top 25 for a few weeks since knocking off previously unbeaten and top-rated Arizona just prior to Christmas, the LSU Tigers are 10-2 overall after claiming an 80-51 non-conference home triumph over Houston this past Wednesday. Guided by former MSU assistant coach (1983-90) and current sixth-year LSU head man John Brady, the Tigers opened SEC play by dropping an 89-63 decision at Georgia last Sunday. LSU is led in scoring by senior forward and Biloxi native Ronald Dupree, who is averaging a team-best 15.9 points per game and rates as the team's No. 2 rebounder at 7.4 boards an outing. Reigning national junior college player of the year Jaime Lloreda averages 13.1 points and a team-most 8.7 rebounds per contest along with shooting 66 percent from the field, while senior point guard Torris Bright contributes 10.4 points and a league-leading 6.1 assists per game for the Tigers.

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