Mississippi State awaits Cats in SEC finale


UK men’s basketball plays Mississippi State University at the Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Mississippi on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The final has come, and it will pit the top team from the Southeastern Conference’s eastern division and the SEC’s western division.

UK (31-2, 14-2 SEC) and Mississippi State (23-10, 9-7 SEC) battled in one of the SEC’s best games of the regular season on Feb. 16. The Cats rallied from a seven-point deficit in the game’s final three minutes to pull out an 81-75 win in overtime in Starkville, Miss.

That game was highlighted before hand when MSU students got hold of UK freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins’ cell phone. Afterward, the talk of the college basketball landscape focused more on the behavior of the MSU fans who threw bottles on to the court in the waning seconds of UK’s victory.

UK will face MSU after beating Tennessee handily in the tournament semifinals 74-45. Mississippi State is coming off a 10-point victory of their own over Vanderbilt. MSU defeated Florida on Friday for the western division’s first win over an East opponent all season. The Bulldogs will look to defeat their third consecutive opponent from the East on Sunday.

Entering the SEC Tournament this year, similar to last year, the common sentiment was that MSU would have to win the whole thing, thus receiving SEC Tournament’s automatic bid, to find their way into the Big Dance. The Bulldogs were successful last season, and are just one step away from doing it again.

“Coming into the tournament, we knew what we had up in front of us,” sophomore guard Dee Bost said. “So we all just put it together and playing as a good team. And then the coaching staff giving us good scouting reports, and we’re just taking that intensity into the game and just executing.”

One addition for MSU who was absent in their first meeting will be junior guard Ravern Johnson. Johnson, MSU’s second leading scorer now, didn’t play in their first meeting because of “attitude detrimental to the team,” said MSU head coach Rick Stansbury after their first game against UK.

After seeing UK’s first two games in the SEC Tournament, Stansbury is all too aware of the UK contingent that has all but taken over Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. Stansbury said they’re going to play as if the crowd is cheering for them and that’s the only way they can look at it.

“I would hope too all those fans that are still left here, we need all those fans for us,” Stansbury said. “Put it in your paper. We need them cheering for us. Vanderbilt, we need all those fans. Tennessee fans. I’m sure they will be, Tennessee will, if they don’t go home.”