"We have to go on the road and play a very good Tennessee team that has lost some tough games. But we understand how good they are. It won't be easy. It will be Senior Night (for Tennessee) and (Tenn. coach) Buzz (Peterson) will have his team ready. We all need wins. We have two games left and we are fighting to win the West."
What did you learn from the game against Arkansas this past Saturday?
"Give Arkansas some credit, they made two huge plays. They jumped up and made a 25-footer off a screen to cut it from 6 to 3. Then Davis made a great drive; a great right-hand finish foul late in that game. We had a missed shot from Mario (Austin) around the hole and had two turnovers in that stretch. Harper walked on one of them, but that is part of a basketball game."
It seems like in some of the games where you struggled down the stretch, it has usually been something where you have had a problem getting the ball to Mario or else there have been some turnovers. Is that something that you can fix at this point of the season?
"That is just part of the game. They are plays you don't want to make. Then, (Zimmerman) had that drive that one time and we didn't complete the play. We didn't complete some plays, but those plays aren't magnified unless Arkansas doesn't make some big plays down that stretch. They had three of them."
Do you think you should give the ball to Mario more?
"You can't give it to him everytime. They are sitting in a zone. When they are jammed in front of him and behind him, you can't get the ball to him. You have to have some other guys step up and make some plays."
The last three games you have played more zones than in the past, particularly the Arkansas game. You haven't rebounded as well as you had. Because of that, do you anticipate going back to more man defense?
"We played a lot of zone Saturday (against Arkansas). Against Alabama, we didn't play much zone. On the road at Kentucky, we mixed it up. We played more zone at Arkansas than we have all year long. On the road, hopefully, that keeps you out of foul trouble, which it did. Hopefully, they don't make shots consistently, which we (kept them from doing) for about 30 minutes. Then, they had a little spurt where they knocked down a couple of threes. Late in the game, we were in man where they had those two three-point plays. It is easier to play man at home when you have the crowd behind you. Sometimes, on the road that is the chance you take. We played a lot of zone at Auburn and I thought that really helped us over there. You roll the dice and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."
Tennessee has Ron Slay and the problems he presents. Also talk about other concerns about Tennessee.
"There are a lot of concerns. Two weeks ago we were talking about how Tennessee is one of the best teams in this league. They have that same personnel. Teams go through some mental things. You lose a close game here or there. It kind of grows on you and that is what happened. They have the same players and probably have the Player of the Year in (Ron) Slay. He is a force and knows he is the go-to man on that team. They have surprising guard play on that team. They are a very balanced team. We have them on Senior Night. It will be tough on us."
There is so much emotion going into Senior Night. Would you prefer to be the home team or visiting team on Senior Night?
"Are you asking me would I prefer play Tennessee in Starkville or Knoxville? I think you can answer that. I would stop off and play them in Nashville if they want to move Senior Night to Nashville. Anytime you are at home, it is a great advantage. Most coaches would probably say they want their team to play with emotion. If you looked back at the history of the games and looked at the percentage of the teams that won on Senior Night, I would think that percentage would go up versus regular nights."
Compare Slay and Austin and their styles of play.
"Slay is a more versatile player because he can shoot the three with great accuracy. He shoots 30% of his three-pointers. Slay has more ability outside behind that line. They are both really good on the inside. Mario, on the block, is a load. Slay is a terrific player and has had a great year for them."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org