Mississippi State has a tall task ahead taking on undefeated and No. 1 ranked Kentucky at 6 p.m. tonight on the SEC Network.
However, Rick Ray‘s attention this week has not been on the 27-0 Wildcats. The third year coach has been searching for way to help his team protect the basketball, a problem that has plagued the Bulldogs in back-to-back losses at home.
“I probably won’t look at Kentucky much at all because in order for us to beat a quality team we’ve got to stop beating ourselves,” Ray said. “By that I mean we’ve got to take care of the basketball.”
MSU (12-15, 5-9) turned the ball over 13 times in a 71-65 loss to Ole Miss last Thursday and committed 23 turnovers in a 65-61 setback to Arkansas on Saturday.
State held the lead at halftime in both of those contests only to watch it dissipate down the stretch, falling to 5-9 in league play and 12-15 overall.
Six of the Bulldogs losses in SEC play have come by six points or less.
To make matters worse for Mississippi State, sophomore point guard I.J. Ready will be a game-time decision tonight. Ready missed the entire Arkansas game after rolling his ankle late against Ole Miss.
Ready is Mississippi State’s fifth leading scorer at 8.2 points per game and second in assists at 53 on the year.
Kentucky sports a spotless 14-0 mark in conference play and has claimed seven straight victories over the Bulldogs under John Calipari. Five of those wins were by 10 points or less including a 69-59 victory in Starkville last year.
MSU also led at the half in Lexington last season before the Wildcats rallied for an 85-63 victory.
Calipari is expected another tough effort by the Bulldogs tonight.
“When I’ve watched Rick’s team, I’m amazed at how hard they’re playing and how much they’re in sync with each other,” Calipari said. “They’re playing zone, they’re playing man, digging the post and fighting you on every possession. They’re getting up in people.”
UK’s latest triumph came at home against Auburn 110-75 on Saturday. They are the first team in SEC history to start the year 27-0.
“I think the biggest thing they have is depth,” Ray said. “(Calipari) has the luxury that if someone is not adhering to what he wants to do then he pulls that guy out and puts in another McDonald’s All-American.”
The Wildcats starting lineup features three players 6-foot-10 or taller in Willie Cauley-Stein (7-0), Karl-Anthony Towns (6-11) and Trey Lyles (6-10). The starting five is rounded out by Harrison twins Aaron and Andrew, who are both 6-foot-6.
Aaron Harrison along with Moss Point’s Devin Booker lead the Wildcats averaging 11 points per game.