Mississippi St.-Kentucky Preview

Before Kentucky can focus on a run toward a national

championship, it has a chance to reclaim some glory in another

tournament its dominated over the years.

The second-ranked Wildcats look for their first SEC tournament

title in six years Sunday when they face defending conference

champion Mississippi State, a team whose postseason status remains

uncertain.

Kentucky (31-2) has won a record 25 SEC tournament

championships, but none since 2004. That could change as the

Wildcats return to the finals for the first time since 2005 after a

74-45 rout of 15th-ranked Tennessee in Saturday’s semifinal.

“We’re trying to do something special. So far we’re doing it, so

we’re going to keep on playing,” said freshman Eric Bledsoe, who

had 17 points.

The Wildcats hoped to use this event to solidify the overall No.

1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They made a strong case by

dominating the Vols. Freshman DeMarcus Cousins had 19 points with

15 rebounds, and star John Wall added 14 points with nine assists

as Kentucky shot 52.1 percent while holding the Vols to 19

first-half points and 30.9 percent shooting for the game.

“We just try to get better every game and hopefully win a

championship (Sunday),” said Wall, who was coming off a 23-point

effort in Friday’s six-point win over Alabama.

The Wildcats will have to dethrone Mississippi State (23-10),

which won four games in four days to win its third tournament title

in 2009.

After beating No. 20 Vanderbilt 62-52 on Saturday, the Bulldogs

would only need to win three games to repeat as champions. That

also might be the only way they qualify for the NCAA tournament

with an at-large bid not guaranteed for the SEC West Division

champions .

“Being in this tournament, there’s no question it’s a positive

thing,” said Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury, whose team has held its

first two opponents to a combined 38.8 percent shooting. “Having

success, knowing you can win.

“(Our players) worried about the things that they’ve got to

worry about. That’s what happens between the lines. That’s the only

thing we’re in charge of.”

Kentucky snapped a three-game losing streak in the series with

an 81-75 overtime win at Mississippi State on Feb. 16. Cousins and

Patrick Patterson each had 19 points, while Wall added 18. All

three also posted double-digit rebound totals as the Wildcats

overcame a 4-for-24 shooting performance from beyond the arc by

holding the Bulldogs to 38.6 percent shooting from the field.

“They’re one of the best teams in the country, and when they

came to our place, we had them, but it slipped out of our hands,”

said Bulldogs forward Jarvis Varnado, who had six blocks against

the Commodores. “We want this rematch, and we’ll be up for it.”

Mississippi State might feel like they’re playing a true road

game Sunday while facing a backdrop of blue-clad Kentucky fans

who’ve traveled in droves to Nashville, Tenn., to support their

team this weekend.

“Big Blue, as you well know, they’re going to travel. No

question the place will be packed with them,” Stansbury said. “I

would hope all those (other school’s) fans that are still left here

– we need all those fans for us.”

Mississippi State’s Barry Stewart, who recorded 16 points and

five steals against Kentucky last month, had 14 with eight rebounds

Saturday.