"Stan Heath has done a great job with that team, particularly with them going through some losing streaks and he able to keep his team playing hard and staying positive. To go on the road and win at Vanderbilt was a huge win for them. Anytime you go to Bud Walton (Arena), it is a very difficult place to play."
Talk a little about Branden Vincent and what he means to your team.
"I think that is what makes our team play so well. Branden, in the last four to five weeks, he has really emerged. We found some more strengths that he has. We've allowed him to play those roles some more. Because of that, he has gotten more playing time. I think the team is very comfortable with him in there. He is going to defend, rebound every game, every night. He has the ability to pass the basketball very well. Defensively, he is the kind of player that can be a stopper for us. The role that Branden Vincent is playing on this team is huge. Those are the kind of pieces that you have to have to put the whole together."
While he doesn't start, what do you like about having him in the game at the end of the game?
"I don't get into who starts, as you well know. I don't change my lineup much. It's not who (starts), but who is in there at the end when the game is on the line. I think you can look back the past month and Branden Vincent has played in those games when the games were on the line. I like toughness, ability to defend and ability to rebound, particularly if you are trying to protect a lead or they have a great offensive player and you are trying to shut him down."
You like to switch up your defenses a lot. How much of that is based on the athleticism and versatility of your backcourt, Zimmerman and Bowers?
"I think that is the key to our team, defensively. I've always said it starts with the head of the snake. The head controls the whole body. Derrick Zimmerman is the head of that snake. He is going to put that pressure on the opposing point guard and make it difficult at times for him to make entry passes. Then you have guys like Timmy Bowers behind him who has great quickness and anticipates very well. He is a great position player. Those two kids are the reason why we are leading the league in two categories, defensive percentage field goals and steals. And we aren't a team that presses all the time. You would think that a team that leads the conference in steals would be a team that picks up fullcourt and presses but that is not the way our team plays. We do it from a halfcourt defensive standpoint. Those two guys key everything we do defensively."
You guys blew Arkansas out the last meeting. How do you prepare your guys so that they aren't overconfident?
"You can forget that happening. That game is done and is over. We have all the respect in the world for Arkansas and the job that Stan has done up there. We know how difficult it is to play in Bud Walton (Arena). They went on the road last night (at Vanderbilt) and got a huge win. They are at home and have been right there in every game. And they blew out Alabama (at home). We know they are a very good basketball team. We know that we have to be at our best to have an opportunity to go up there and win."
You've brought some very good teams to Bud Walton Arena and haven't been able to win.
"We've brought some very good teams up there. The 1995 and 1996 teams were Sweet 16 and Final Four teams. We've been in a position up there in the last 30 seconds about four different times to win or lose games and we've never been able to pull it out. The reason is Arkansas has had good basketball teams. Another reason is the atmosphere. It has been one of the better atmospheres, not just in the league but in the country. Even if the team is down, they are going to have 18,000 people show up. When the Hogs make a few shots, that place gets deafening."
Do you think going to Bud Walton has gotten your kids attention, especially because you are looking for a breakthrough of sorts?
"We don't get into the fact of us not ever winning up there. This is a totally different team. This is a different team than the one we took up there last year. Do these kids know that we have never won (in Bud Walton Arena)? Yes, it is something that we have brought to their attention. It is an opportunity for this team to go do something that no other Mississippi State has never done. And that is to go to Bud Walton and win. Is that enough motivation? I don't know. We have to go up there and play a very good Arkansas basketball team in a very good environment."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at email@example.com