Mississippi State has had its chances in its first two league outings only to fall short on both occasions to Texas A&M and Arkansas.
Now the 7-7 Bulldogs find themselves in the precarious spot of trying to avoid a second straight 0-3 start to Southeastern Conference play while traveling to one of the toughest venues in the country. MSU takes on No. 9 Kentucky at Rupp Arena at 6 p.m. on ESPN.
“There can’t be a tougher venue or team to play against on the road with all the success they’ve had,” said MSU coach Ben Howland. “Everybody knows how tough it is.”
Rupp Arena has been especially difficult since John Calipari took over the Wildcats program seven years ago. Under Calipari, UK owns an 111-4 record at home and is currently riding a 29-game winning streak there.
Rupp Arena has also been a house of horrors for the Bulldogs, winning just twice in 27 games there. MSU has lost its last three visits to Lexington following a 66-57 victory in 2009.
Making matters worse, the Bulldogs have just four overall road wins in as many years. Mississippi State is 0-3 on the road this year and is 4-36 since the 2012-13 campaign.
“We’ve had slow starts in the second half,” said MSU senior guard Craig Sword. “Every time we go somewhere we play well in the first half and we come out lackadaisical. They always pull away from us.”
Sword had success during his previous visit to Rupp Arena in 2013, scoring 19 points in a game in which the Bulldogs’ led at halftime.
Calipari is leery of Sword’s ability, having averaged 12.3 points against Kentucky in four previous outings.
“He continues to play hard and isn’t afraid to be physical,” Calipari said. “He looks a little bit unleashed offensively. He’s hurt us in the past and it’s a hard match-up for us.”
The Wildcats have won the last eight meetings against State including a 74-56 win in Starkville last season. Kentucky leads the overall series 92-20 and 46-5 at home.
The Wildcats (12-3, 2-1 SEC) are coming off a 77-61 win at Alabama over the weekend and are led by freshman guard Jamal Murray averaging 17.3 points.
Howland owns a 1-1 record against Kentucky but has never played them in Rupp Arena. Howland lost to the Wildcats 52-50 while at UCLA as part of the 2003 Wooden Classic in Anaheim, California and later eliminated UK in the semifinals of the 2006 Maui Invitational with a 73-68 win.
Howland’s only trip to Rupp Arena during his two decades coaching was with Pittsburgh in 2002, a 78-73 overtime loss to Kent State in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.