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February 20, 2012
Bulldogs pose challenge for dominant Wildcats
So you want to upset Kentucky? Rick Stansbury figures he has the blueprint.
The Mississippi State coach gets his chance Tuesday in Starkville, Miss., when top-ranked UK visits the Bulldogs for a 9 p.m. tipoff.
"When you're playing Kentucky, you've got to hit on all cylinders," Stansbury said. "You've got to do some things maybe better than you're capable of doing, and for darn sure better than you've done, to have any kind of chance at all. Then maybe hope Kentucky doesn't play their best.
"Because if Kentucky plays their best, I'm not so sure there's anyone, anywhere that has a chance against them. So we know it'll be a huge challenge for us in here."
So it boils down to this: Play better than you can play, and hope Kentucky plays poorly.
It's an uphill climb, to be sure, and that's why the Wildcats (26-1, 12-0 Southeastern Conference) are threatening to run away with the SEC regular-season championship.
Kentucky is three games ahead of Florida in the conference standings with four games to play. And though the Gators still are mathematically alive - if the Cats lose out and Florida sweeps its remaining games, UF would hold the conference title tiebreaker - Kentucky could clinch the crown this week.
Any combination of two UK wins and Florida losses would seal the Wildcats' 45th all-time SEC championship.
But Mississippi State (19-8, 6-6) provides a potential stumbling block.
Though the Bulldogs have lost three straight games, they rank among the SEC's most talented teams. In forwards Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State has one of the league's best front lines, and point guard Dee Bost will present a challenge for UK's Marquis Teague.
"You've got guys that could go for 30 (points)," UK coach John Calipari "You've got five of them that could go for 30. All the sudden, you're not just, 'Stop this guy.' You can't do it that way. You've got to play basketball and try to make it difficult for them."
Only one Bulldog actually has scored 30 points in a game - Bost had 32 once last season - but both Bost and Moultrie have had 28-point games this season. And Sidney, who will be game-time decision after missing Mississippi State's last game with back spasms, can score from all over the court.
The Bulldogs figure to be motivated. With its recent struggles and lack of quality wins, Mississippi State - which in January was ranked as high as No. 15 in the Associated Press poll - is no NCAA Tournament lock.
And Kentucky tends to bring out the best in the Bulldogs. UK is 3-0 against Mississippi State since Calipari took over, but all three games have been decided by six points or fewer.
"They've been exciting games…," Calipari said. "They've played inspired and we expect them to play inspired this game."
The Bulldogs could use some inspiration. They enter Tuesday's game having lost three straight to Georgia, LSU and Auburn, three teams with a combined SEC record of 13-23.
"You've got to focus on your next game," Stansbury said. "But against Kentucky, you can have the best frame of mind in the world and it's a very difficult challenge… . I've seen a lot of Kentucky teams; This may be as good as I've seen."