Tuesday, January 13, 2004
UK has another unbeaten foe in sights
After beating Vanderbilt, Bulldogs in Wildcats' sight
The Associated Press
LEXINGTON -The list of unbeaten NCAA Division I basketball teams dwindled when Kentucky beat Vanderbilt. Up next for the Wildcats: another unbeaten foe, Mississippi State.
The fifth-ranked Wildcats (10-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) say they take no extra satisfaction from giving an opposing team its first loss of the season, other than the pleasure of beating a good opponent.
"We just want to win every game we play," Kentucky guard Kelenna Azubuike said. "If it means that we're giving the team we're playing their first loss, so be it."
Accomplishing that feat on the road against Mississippi State - one of seven remaining Division I unbeatens - figures to be a difficult challenge. During Kentucky's perfect run through the SEC last season, Mississippi State twice played the Wildcats tough, losing 70-62 in Lexington and 64-57 in the conference tournament final in New Orleans.
Only four other SEC teams played Kentucky within single digits last season, and no one else did it twice.
No. 20 Mississippi State (13-0, 2-0 SEC) lost 6-9 standout Mario Austin off that team, but the Bulldogs picked up a key transfer from Baylor, third-team All-Big 12 Conference selection Lawrence Roberts. The 6-9 Roberts is averaging 16.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game - both team highs, and he and 7-0 junior Marcus Campbell likely will present Kentucky's smallish inside duo of Erik Daniels (6-8) and Chuck Hayes (6-6) their biggest challenge of the season.
Daniels, who helped hold SEC preseason player of the year Matt Freije of Vanderbilt scoreless for the first 28 minutes of Saturday's game, said he'll approach defending Roberts the same way.
"I'll just try to take him out of his offense," Daniels said. "Anybody can be stopped. The type of defense we play, we just try to force people out of their game."
Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said the Wildcats' major emphasis in practice this week has been to eliminate turnovers. Kentucky beat Vanderbilt by double digits (75-63) despite committing 23 turnovers, matching the second-highest single-game total this season by an SEC squad. The highest? Kentucky committed 24 turnovers in a season-opening win over Winthrop.
The Wildcats also have won a 22-turnover game (against Eastern Kentucky) and rank last in the SEC in turnover margin at minus-7 per game. Kentucky coach Tubby Smith did point out that Kentucky had 20 assists (on 27 baskets) against Vanderbilt, though.
The game will be Kentucky's first true road contest of the season, although the Wildcats have played five games outside Lexington, including UCLA in Anaheim, Calif.; Michigan State in Detroit and Indiana in Indianapolis. Smith hopes those trips have prepared his players for visits to SEC arenas.
"Our guys understand we prepare the same way for every game," Smith said. "Having those road trips to California, or to Michigan, or to Indianapolis, helps us mentally know how to prepare for a game, and physically. That should be beneficial to us."
Kentucky's last visit to Mississippi State - two years ago, because of the SEC's rotating schedule - was less than memorable for the Wildcats, as they blew a 20-point lead and lost 74-69 in overtime. But Kentucky now is riding an 18-game regular-season SEC winning streak, and Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said a win over the Wildcats now could define the Bulldogs' season.
"They'll always be the team you measure your success by," Stansbury said. "It's not a game where you have to worry about firing up (players) emotionally. If you have to find other ways to motivate them, it's going to be a long night."
No. 5 UK at No. 20 Mississippi State
Tipoff: 9 p.m. today, Humphrey Coliseum (10,500), Starkville, Miss.
Records: UK 10-1 (1-0 SEC), MSU 13-0 (2-0).
Radio: WSAI-AM (1530).
Series: UK leads 80-17.
Coach: Tubby Smith (174-48, seventh season; 298-110 overall).
Coach: Rick Stansbury (52-41, sixth season; same overall).
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