By Gene Phelps
INDIANAPOLIS Basketball wasn’t invented at Princeton, but Mississippi State coach Richard Williams thinks the Tigers play like it was.
“I think they play the game probably the way it was intended to be played,” said Williams, whose Bulldogs (23-7) play the Ivy League champions (22-6) at about 6:30 p.m. CST today in the second round of the NCAA Southeast Regional at the RCA Dome.
“There’s not a lot of pushing and shoving, grabbing and holding. Just ball movement, player movement, cutting, screening, passing to the open man, helping teammates get open, just very unselfish play.”
UCLA probably thinks Princeton invented the game, too. Retiring coach Pete Carril’s Tigers upset the defending national champions 43-41 Thursday to reach today’s game.
Mississippi State, still in a daze after beating Kentucky last Saturday for the SEC Tournament title, earned its berth with a 58-51 win over Virginia Commonwealth.
In today’s other matchup at 3:50 p.m., top-seeded Connecticut plays Eastern Michigan. Today’s two winners play next week in Lexington, Ky., in the regional semifinals, a.k.a, the Sweet 16.
As they have for eight consecutive seasons, the Tigers lead the nation in scoring defense, giving up an average of 51.6 points per game.
“We’ve got to be able to adjust to their pace of play,” MSU forward Whit Hughes said. “The closest team in our conference to them is Vanderbilt with the way they run their motion and execute their offense.”
Said Williams, “We must make some outside shots. If we don’t make shots, they’ll pack it in, and we’ll be in trouble. It’s that simple.”
The Tigers are led by 6-foot-8 center Steve Goodrich, guard Sydney Johnson and forward Gabe Lewullis, who scored the game-winning layup against UCLA.
Carril says MSU’s size inside will be a major problem.
“We have a tall order and they have a lot of tall guys,” he said. “Two of their starters are All-SEC (center Erick Dampier, guard Darryl Wilson), which may be the No. 1 conference in the country. Wilson can really shoot it. We’re going to have our hands full.”
MSU comes into the game limping. Hughes has battled a sinus infection all week and has a sore knee. Forward Russell Walters has a sore shoulder, forward Dontae’ Jones a sore foot. The guards, Wilson and Marcus Bullard, have sore ankles.
“They’ll just have to suck it up,” Williams said. “We don’t have anyone else to put in there.”