By Logan Lowery
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Mississippi State travels to the Bluegrass State to begin Southeastern Conference play at No. 14 Kentucky tonight at 7 p.m. on MyMS.
The Bulldogs have just five wins in 50 tries in Lexington and will be playing in historic Rupp Arena for the second consecutive season. MSU dropped an 85-55 decision to the Wildcats there a year ago.
“I never thought went into a situation where we were scared last year,” said MSU coach Rick Ray. “I thought we were always prepared and ready to play. If you go into a place like Rupp Arena where you’ve got fears or are scared then you’re not going to have success on the basketball court. I don’t anticipate that being a problem.”
The Bulldogs are 45-35 in SEC openers but are just 15-19 on the road. State has opened with UK four times, splitting those matchups. The Bulldogs won the last conference opener between the two schools 74-69 in overtime in Starkville in 2002.
The Wildcats lead the overall series 89-20 and have won eight of the last 10 meetings including five straight.
Mississippi State enters tonight’s contest at 10-3 which matches its win total from last season. The Bulldogs are coming off a 77-63 victory over Maryland Eastern Shore last Thursday behind a career-high 22 points from senior forward Colin Borchert.
MSU is shooting 46.1 percent from the field and averaging 70.8 points per game. The Bulldogs are hitting 30.2 percent from 3-point range and 64 percent from the charity stripe. They lead the SEC and are 10th nationally with 9.6 steals an outing.
Sophomore shooting guard Craig Sword continues to pace State with 14.3 points per game. He saw his 11-game streak of scoring in double figures ended last week going just 1-of-3 shooting and finishing with three points against UMES.
Kentucky is also 10-3 on the year but has not played since a 73-66 home victory over Louisville on Dec. 28. The Wildcats went 12-6 in conference action last season finishing second in the league standings.
“The bar gets raised in conference play,” said UK coach John Calipari, who is 5-0 against MSU. “It brings out a little more excitement and a little more of a fight between both teams.”
UK is 9-0 at home this season and is shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and scoring 80.8 points. The Wildcats have drained 31 percent behind the arc and 66.5 percent from the free throw line. They have outrebounded their opponents by 12.4 a game.
Kentucky features four starters averaging double figures led by freshman forward Julius Randle. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound former McDonald’s All-American and No. 2 overall recruit is scoring 18.1 points and leads the SEC in rebounding with 10.6 boards.
“He’s a lottery pick and that’s always going to present some challenges,” Ray said. “He’s such a physical presence.
“He doesn’t settle for jump shots and if you play off him he’ll attack the rim and that’s what makes him so difficult to guard. He’ll attack the basket with that big body and continue to draw fouls.”