Now with 975 career points to his credit after Wednesday's game-high, 18-point effort against the Gamecocks, junior all-America candidate Mario Austin needs 25 more points to become the 25th player in Mississippi State basketball history to eclipse the 1,000-point plateau. The reigning SEC Tournament MVP paces the Bulldogs in scoring (18.2 ppg) and rebounding (8.1 rpg), along with ranking second in the league behind Florida's David Lee in field-goal percentage (61.0%) in conference games only. Junior co-captain Timmy Bowers continues to provide the perimeter scoring punch for State at 14.9 points per game to rank 11th among the SEC's scoring leaders. The former Mississippi High School Player of the Year from Gulfport also averages 3.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.1 steals (4th in the SEC) an outing, in addition to standing ninth in the league in both 3-pointers made per game (2.2 treys per game) and overall field-goal percentage (49.4%).
Guided by former Mississippi State assistant coach (1983-90) and current sixth-year LSU head man John Brady, the Tigers are 12-4 overall and 1-3 in conference play after dropping their second straight SEC decision with Wednesday's 73-65 setback at Arkansas. Since posting an 85-72 home victory over MSU two weeks ago at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, LSU has also fallen at home, 67-57, to Mississippi. Leading the SEC in both scoring margin (+14.0) and field-goal percentage (50.3%), the Tigers are led in scoring by senior forward Ronald Dupree at 15.2 points per game to rank ninth among the league's top scorers. The Biloxi native also rates fourth in the conference in rebounding (7.8 rpg) and sixth in field-goal percentage (53.1%). Reigning National Junior College Player of the Year Jaime Lloreda averages 13.2 points per contest, in addition to ranking second in the league in both rebounding (8.3 rpg) and field-goal percentage (60.9%). Senior point guard Torris Bright adds 11.0 points an outing, along with standing high among the league leaders in both assists (5.6 apg; 2nd) and steals (2.3 spg; 3rd).
With MSU owning a recent 15-5 series lead over LSU dating back to the 1993-94 campaign, the Bulldogs have prevailed in eight of the last nine Starkville meetings during that span. A year ago on the MSU campus (Jan. 26, 2002), State shot a blistering 63 percent from the field (32-of-51 FGs) en route to recording an 84-61 homecourt triumph over the visiting Bayou Bengals. These two SEC West rivals have split the regular-season series during each of the last four campaigns.