No. 5 Kentucky faces hot Mississippi State on the road

No. 5 Kentucky will meet one of the hottest teams in the Southeastern Conference when the Wildcats travel to Starkville, Miss., to face Mississippi State on Tuesday night.

The Bulldogs (12-4) are in second place with a 3-1mark and riding a three-game win streak. After opening league play with a loss to Alabama, Mississippi State has reeled off consecutive wins over LSU (95-78), Arkansas (84-78) and Texas A&M (67-59).

Kentucky (15-2) is atop the SEC with a 5-0 record.

Tuesday’s game will be a matchup of two of the most respected players in the league — Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe and State’s Quinndary Weatherspoon.

Briscoe, a sophomore guard and leader of Kentucky’s young team, averages 15.4 points per game.

“When I think of Kentucky, the heart and soul of that team is Briscoe,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said Monday. “Briscoe comes up with big plays. He makes it happen. You can’t say enough about Briscoe.”

Briscoe is joined in the starting lineup by four freshmen. Malik Monk is the top scorer at 21.8 points per game. De’Aaron Fox checks in at 16.5 points and a team-best 108 assists. Bam Adebayo averages 13.2 points and a team-best 7.4 rebounds, and Wenyen Gabriel averages 5.5 points and 6.1 rebounds following his career-high 16 rebounds Saturday against Auburn .

Weatherspoon is the Bulldogs’ leading scorer at 17.9 points per game.

“He’s a tremendous player,” said Kentucky assistant Joel Justus. “With a group of young, inexperienced players, he’s a guy that is able to provide, maybe some stability for that group.”

Weatherspoon is joined by sophomore Aric Holman at 10.4 points per game, freshman Lamar Peters (10.4), senior I.J. Ready (10.1) and freshman Mario Kegler (9.2).

“I would say that they’re a team that’s very similar to us,” Justus said. “Weatherspoon is a guy that’s a big part of their success, and having that burden of success and failure is a big burden for college basketball players, especially at a young age. He seems to be handling it quite well.”

Kentucky averages 93.6 points per game while allowing 71.7. Mississippi State scores 74.4 and gives up 66.8.

“They’re a team that plays extremely hard on both ends of the floor,” Justus said. “They’re a group that puts pressure on you. It’s gonna be a hostile environment and I think our guys are excited for the challenge. It’s gonna be a big Tuesday night in the SEC on the road.”

Of Kentucky’s five SEC wins, two have been the road — a 99-76 rout of Ole Miss on Dec. 29 and an 87-871 win at Vanderbilt on Jan. 10.

“We have had opportunities to be on the road and test our youth, and I think for us, every time that you step out you want to see where you are, and we’ll see where we are on Jan. 17,” Justus said. “We hope that we’re in a better place than we were a week ago when we were on the road.”