Ranked 21st nationally this week in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and 23rd by the Associated Press, coach Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs own an 18-8 overall record and 8-7 league mark after dropping their third decision in the last four contests with Wednesday's 59-49 setback to the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville. While also falling at Arkansas, 53-51, last Saturday, State has recorded back-to-back, single-game season lows for scoring output within the past week.
Defensively, the Bulldogs continue to lead the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense (60.4 ppg), field-goal percentage defense (39.9%), rebounding margin (+7.0) and steals (8.9 spg) for all games. Over the last 12 games with an 8-4 record, MSU has limited the opposition to an average of only 58.1 points per contest.
While looking to capture their first SEC Western Division crown since claiming back-to-back divisional titles during the 1994-95 and 1995-96 campaigns, the Bulldogs are powered by junior center Mario Austin, who leads the squad in scoring (16.0 ppg; 7th in the SEC), rebounding (7.9 rpg; 3rd) and field-goal percentage (54.9%; 2nd) for the second consecutive season. The reigning SEC Tournament MVP posted a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds in State's 63-46 win at Auburn back on Feb. 19 of this year. Junior guard Timmy Bowers, who tallied a career-high 25 points in the year's previous road meeting with Auburn, is averaging 14.5 points (13th in the SEC), 3.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, while ranking tied for fourth in the league averaging 2.27 made 3-pointers per contest on the season.
Seniors Ignerski and Zimmerman average 9.4 and 8.6 points per outing, respectively, as 26-game starters for the year. Ranked second on the school's all-time lists with 479 career assists and 197 career steals, Zimmerman will match the current school standard - held jointly by Tang Hamilton and Tyrone Washington - by appearing in his 123rd career MSU contest Saturday against Auburn.
Guided by veteran head coach Cliff Ellis, the Auburn Tigers sport a 19-9 overall record and 8-7 SEC mark to stand in a first-place tie with Mississippi State atop the league's Western Division standings. Auburn most recently claimed a 69-54 home win over Arkansas this past Wednesday. The Tigers are led by senior forward and SEC Player of the Year candidate Marquis Daniels, who ranks second in the SEC in scoring (18.3 ppg) behind Tennessee's Ron Slay, in addition to averaging 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and a league-leading 2.4 steals per game. Sophomore forward Marco Killingsworth averages 14.1 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds an outing, while pacing the conference in field-goal percentage (57.6%).