The 16-Game War

Mississippi State comes to Oxford for the Southeastern Conference opener against 14th-ranked Ole Miss Saturday with some impressive stats on its resume' for the non-league season.

The Bulldogs, 12-3 following a 55-52 loss at Western Kentucky Monday night, are second in the country in 3-point shooting, averaging 10 a game.

However, it was an off night beyond the arc that contributed to the loss against WKU as MSU only made 4-of-19 form 3-point range.

On defense, always a Bulldog basketball strength, MSU has some additional highlighted stats.

State is only allowing an SEC-best 58.5 points per game to opponents, and entering the week was ranked second in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (33.1 percent). The Bulldogs also rank third in the nation in blocks per game (8.1), much of that due to the inside presence of veteran center Jarvis Varnado (6-foot-9, 230 pounds), who averages five blocks a game.

Ole Miss sophomore guard Terrico White says the Rebels (12-2) plan to keep on doing what they've been doing.

"We just have to play defense like we've been playing defense," he said of trying to stop the Bulldogs' outside threats. "Close out on the shooters, and when they pump fake don't jump. Just keep doing what we do."

White is also one of the Rebels' main offensive threats – he and junior guard Chris Warren.

White is at 17.3 points per game and Warren not far behind at 16.9 heading into league action. Warren has 42 treys on the year, while White has 31.

"I think we're well prepared," said Warren for the start of conference play. "We've been in some tough, close games. It's our first SEC game, so it should be fun."

The Rebels are looking for their first league-opening win under head coach Andy Kennedy, in his fourth season. Ole Miss dropped a 78-68 decision at Florida a year ago.

The Rebels are opening SEC play at home for just the third time in the last 12 seasons. The last SEC opening win came in 2005-06 when the Rebels beat Alabama 71-61 in Tuscaloosa.

Ole Miss is opening SEC play against Mississippi State for the first time since 2004 and just the sixth time in school history.

"Coach (Kennedy) says since he's been here, he hasn't won an SEC opener," said sophomore forward Murphy Holloway. "So we're trying to get him one. It's a rivalry game, but all the games are big for us. It's SEC play, so I'm just ready."

Holloway said he likes the way things seem to be coming together for the Rebels. But he knows there's still a long way to go.

"I feel like we've got a lot of room for improvement," said Holloway, the teams' leading rebounder with 7.0 per game and third leading scorer with 11.5 points. "Free throws. Rebounding. Transition D. But we're getting better. We're practicing hard every day and improving, but we're not at our peak yet."

Ole Miss and Mississippi State is the SEC's most-played men's basketball rivalry, with the Bulldogs leading 134-105 through 239 games.

Junior guard Eniel Polynice, just behind Holloway in scoring at 10.6 and the team leader in steals with 21, said he's looking forward to more matchups with MSU, especially since he missed both of them last season with injury.

"We went into State and beat them. They came in here and beat us," he said of last season's unusual split, with each team winning on the other's home court for the first time since 1955. "Saturday is a rivalry game. It's probably one of the biggest games of my career. We've just got to come out with the right mindset, stay focused, stay humble, and everything will take care of itself. We'll do what we usually do. We'll practice, watch film, get in the flow and get ready for State."

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