Bulldogs try to even out vs. Kentucky

Published 7:55 am Saturday, February 9, 2019

The bad news for Mississippi State is that No. 5 Kentucky is coming to town on Saturday. The good news is that it’s an even-numbered game on the Southeastern Conference schedule.

Mississippi State has alternated wins and losses in its SEC games for the past three weeks — always winning on Saturday after losing in the middle of the week.

The Bulldogs are coming off a 92-88 overtime loss to LSU on Wednesday, which means if the pattern holds they’re in good shape to spring an upset this weekend.

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“If I knew that I would be a genius,” MSU coach Ben Howland joked on Friday, when asked about the curious pattern his team has laid down over the past month. “Bottom line is, that’s the way it’s fallen. I don’t know that there’s truly a pattern there.

“But this is a big game for us because it’s one of the best teams in the country and maybe the hottest team in the country right now coming into our place,” Howland added.

Mississippi State’s rollercoaster month started with a 76-55 road loss to Kentucky on Jan. 22 that snapped a two-game winning streak. That game was a disaster for the Bulldogs on a lot of fronts, from a bookkeeping snafu that put the wrong starting lineup on the court to a 3-for-20 shooting performance from 3-point range.

Howland wasn’t about to predict a complete reversal of fortune and a victory, but did make one vow.

“We’ll have the starting five right for sure,” Howland said with a grin.
Beyond that, Howland said, the Bulldogs (16-6, 4-5 SEC) are just trying to navigate a difficult part of the schedule.

Kentucky (19-3, 8-1) is the second ranked opponent in a row that they’ll face. It’s also game four of a five-game stretch that includes two matchups with a solid Alabama team and a road game at in-state rival Ole Miss. The Bulldogs are 1-2 so far during this stretch.

“I like our team. Our team has had a very good year. This is an unbelievable gauntlet that is the SEC. Bottom line is that’s what we’re going through and what we’ve got to deal with,” Howland said.

The Bulldogs also need to get up for the challenge of facing Kentucky. The Wildcats have won nine straight games overall, and 11 in a row against Mississippi State.
Mississippi State’s last win in the series was in 2009 in Lexington, and its last victory in Starkville was in 2008.

History, both long-term and recent, make this a major challenge, Howland said.

“They’re the hottest team in the country, maybe. They’ve won against good teams, on foreign courts much less their own. They’re playing great. They’re really good,” Howland said. “Our guys are resilient and kids bounce back quickly. They’re excited for the opportunity. Kentucky’s the winningest program in the history of college basketball. They’re great every year. They have a bunch of guys on that team that will be NBA players some day, so it’s a great and exciting challenge for our team.”

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About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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