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
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
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
“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