MSU to Travel to Tennessee

STARKVILLE, Miss. - Entering the final week of regular-season league play one win shy of clinching at least a tie of their first SEC Western Division championship since 1995-96, the 21st-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs begin the week by traveling to Knoxville to meet the Tennessee Volunteers Wednesday night. Tip-off at UT's Thompson-Boling Arena is set for 7:30 p.m. EST (6:30 p.m. CST).

Looking to bounce back from Saturday's 53-51 road setback to the Arkansas Razorbacks, coach Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs enter the week ranked 21st nationally in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and 23rd by the Associated Press. Now 18-7 overall and 8-6 in league play with a one-game lead over Auburn atop the SEC's Western Division standings, MSU owns an 8-3 mark over its last 11 games dating back to Jan. 22. The Bulldogs are bidding to post their 10th 20-win season in school history, while also looking to record back-to-back, 20-win campaigns for only the fourth time in MSU's 91-year basketball history after last year's school-record 27-8 season. Most recently, State went 26-8 and 22-8 en route to advancing to the 1996 NCAA Final Four and 1995 NCAA Sweet Sixteen, respectively.

Despite coming off season-low totals of five points and one rebound at Arkansas this past weekend, SEC Player of the Year candidate Mario Austin continues to pace the Bulldogs and rank among the SEC's Top-10 leaders in scoring (16.2 ppg; 7th in the SEC), rebounding (7.9 rpg; 3rd) and field-goal percentage (55.0%; 2nd). Fresh off a brilliant 24-point effort, in which he hit 6-of-9 from three-point range (6-of-8 treys in the first half alone), against the Razorbacks this past Saturday, junior guard Timmy Bowers rates as the league's 13th-best scorer at 14.8 points an outing, while ranking tied for third in made 3-pointers per game (2.28 treys/game), sixth in three-point field goal percentage (42.2%) and seventh in steals (1.8 spg).

Also bidding for all-SEC honors this season, senior point guard Derrick Zimmerman rates third in the conference in assists (5.3 apg) and tied for fifth in steals (1.9 spg), in addition to averaging 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest. The reigning all-league performer is on target to lead the Bulldogs in assists, steals, blocks and dunks for the second consecutive season. Fellow senior Michal Ignerski presently stands as MSU's third-leading scorer (9.6 ppg) and No. 3 rebounder (5.2 rpg) on the season. The senior Bulldog tandem will be honored during pre-game "Senior Day" festivities of Saturday's televised MSU-Auburn contest. To accommodate Jefferson Pilot Sports, Saturday's tip-off has been changed to 3 p.m.

Guided by second-year head coach Buzz Peterson, the Vols of Tennessee sport a 15-10 overall record and 7-7 league mark to stand in fourth place in the current SEC Eastern Division standings. After winning six straight games, including five consecutive league victories, through mid-February, the Volunteers have since dropped four straight decisions heading into Wednesday's "Senior Night" encounter with MSU. Most recently, UT fell, 88-67, at home to the hot-shooting LSU Tigers this past Saturday. Tennessee is powered by senior forward Ron Slay, who is averaging a league-best 21.8 points per game while ranking fourth among the SEC's leading rebounders at 7.8 boards an outing. Sophomore forward Brandon Crump averages 10.4 points and 5.5 rebounds, while freshman point guard C.J. Watson is contributing 9.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and a conference-high 5.6 assists per contest.

The last five MSU-UT hardwood meetings dating back to the 1998-99 season have been decided by an average margin of only 5.0 points per game, including last year's 92-91 overtime home win by the Bulldogs over the Volunteers in Starkville.

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