Sunday, February 23, 2003

Wildcats are again wary of Bulldogs

Miss. State figures to be a big test today

The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Kentucky has plenty to feel good about this season, with its unbeaten conference record and the nation's longest active winning streak.

But mention Mississippi State and it brings back a bitter memory from a year ago.

The Wildcats squandered a 20-point first-half lead and lost 74-69 in overtime at Mississippi State. Bulldogs center Mario Austin made his first collegiate 3-pointer to force the extra period.

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith still can't look at film of that game. "I couldn't get anything out of that one but mad," Smith said.

Austin will be the center of attention again in today's game in Rupp Arena, which pits divisional leaders in the Southeastern Conference.

No. 2 Kentucky (21-3, 11-0 SEC) beat Arkansas 66-50 Wednesday to extend its winning streak to 15 games, the program's longest since 1996. The Wildcats lead Florida by two games in the SEC East.

No. 19 Mississippi State (17-5, 7-4) has rebounded from an 0-3 conference start to win seven of its last eight games. The Bulldogs smothered Auburn 63-46 Wednesday to take a one-game lead in the SEC West.

The 6-foot-9, 260-pound Austin leads Mississippi State in scoring, averaging 16.8 points a game, and rebounding (8.6). He has been a model of efficiency, hitting hit 56.1 percent of his shots.

"Mario Austin's a load for a lot of people," MSU coach Rick Stansbury said.

Austin, a junior, is the best low-post player UK will face this season, Smith said.

"He has great hands, great touch around the basket," Smith said.

Both teams have prospered through defense. Kentucky has limited conference foes to an average of just 57.7 points a game, best in the SEC. Mississippi State is right behind, allowing 62.5 points in conference play.

While Kentucky's defense has gotten the most attention, its offense has been just as good, said Stansbury.

Kentucky averages 72.5 points in the SEC, behind only Georgia, and is third in field goal percentage, trailing Mississippi State and Tennessee.

"The thing that's started their run is they've gotten into a great rhythm offensively," Stansbury said.

Smith said one key to containing Austin is a tough defense on the perimeter that denies him the ball.

But UK's perimeter defense has lagged recently and will have its hands full against a Mississippi State backcourt that's one of the conference's best, Smith said.

Junior guard Timmy Bowers is coming off a career-high 25-point performance against Auburn and averages 14.6 a game. Senior point guard Derrick Zimmerman ranks third in the conference with his 5.2 assists per game and fifth in steals with two per contest.

Kentucky's Keith Bogans leads the Wildcats in scoring at 16.3 points a game, followed by Gerald Fitch at 12.7 points.

UK center Marquis Estill, who averages 10.8 points and 5.4 rebounds a game, said he's looking forward to matching up against Austin.

"I think I'm the best post man in the league," Estill said. "He probably thinks he's the best."

Stansbury said the Wildcats' inside duo of Estill and 6-11 Jules Camara will be a challenge for Austin.

"Mario Austin's a load for a lot of people," Stansbury said.

"We're going to go at him a bunch, but Kentucky has very good post players. Estill is a shot-blocker and he can run in transition. He's long around the hole and he's really gotten better. I'm not sure we have a big advantage there."

Today's game figures to be emotional for Kentucky for another reason. The school will commemorate its 100th basketball season with a ceremony featuring a multitude of past Kentucky standouts.

Stansbury said the usual sellout crowd at Rupp Arena is a concern. But he's more worried about the talented Wildcat lineup.

"Those 23,500 people wouldn't matter much if Kentucky wasn't such a good basketball team," he said. "But you take that combination - a great team, plus the crowd -and you've got a mixture of not much success for visiting teams. I don't know if there's ever been a Kentucky team that dissects some very good teams like they have this year."

No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 19 Mississippi St.

Tipoff: 2 p.m. today, Rupp Arena (23,000), Lexington.

Records: UK 21-3 (11-0 Southeastern Conference), MSU 17-5 (7-4).

Radio: WSAI-AM (1530).

Series: UK leads 78-17.

Line: UK by 9.


Chuck HayesSo.6-69.0
Erik DanielsJr.6-810.2
Marquis EstillSr.6-910.8
Keith BogansSr.6-516.3
Gerald FitchJr.6-312.7
Coach: Tubby Smith (153-46, sixth season; 277-108 overall).


Ontario HarperSo.6-57.7
Michal IgnerskiSr.6-109.6
Mario AustinJr.6-916.8
Timmy BowersJr.6-214.6
D. ZimmermanSr.6-39.3
Coach: Rick Stansbury (96-55, fifth season; same overall).





Miss. St74175

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Georgia 79, South Carolina 66

Auburn 80, Mississippi 75

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Florida 77, Vanderbilt 74

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Mississippi St. at Kentucky, 2 p.m.

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