Monday, February 20, 2012
Despite Bulldogs’ recent losing streak
Cats expect Mississippi State’s best shot
At the beginning of February, Tuesday’s matchup between UK and Mississippi State looked like it would be a meeting of two ranked teams and one of the most likely chances for a Wildcats’ loss in Southeastern Conference play.
Since then the matchup has lost some of its luster, but UK is still preparing for a difficult road environment.
Mississippi State has lost its last three games, including overtime games versus Georgia and LSU. The Bulldogs have fallen out of both top 25 polls and are in need of a signature win to pad their NCAA tournament resume.
“The whole town shuts down for this game, they’ve been talking about it for months,” said UK head coach John Calipari. “They can not wait. I wish I was in the t-shirt business down there with the white out or something.
“It’s gonna be cowbells and all that other stuff going on. It’s exciting down there.”
UK junior guard Twany Beckham spent two years at Mississippi State before transferring to Lexington.
“I was on the other side two years ago,” he said. “It was the biggest game of the season. I know it’s going to be crazy tomorrow.”
Beckham said the Wildcats should be prepared for a raucous crowd.
“It gets loud,” he said. “I know two years ago when Kentucky came in, it was one of the loudest places I’ve been in. It’s going to be hard going in there and trying to get a win, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Mississippi State point guard Dee Bost leads the SEC with five assists per game and ranks fifth with 15.8 points per game. Beckham said Bost presents a difficult matchup for UK freshman point guard Marquis Teague.
“He’s really good, fast and strong,” Beckham said. “He’s just as good as like Marquis. They’re both fast and both can get to the basket.”
“They put him in a lot of pick-and-rolls, and he’s pretty good in pick-and-roll,” Calipari said of Bost. “You can’t go under (the screen) on him because he’ll pull up and shoot, so you have to go over the top. He’s pretty good and long going to the basket.”
Calipari expects future opponents to implement a zone defense like the one Mississippi used with some success with against UK in the first half Saturday.
“I would predict that this team will play us zone 60 percent of the time,” he said. “They’re not going to want to bring their big people out in pick-and-rolls, and he’s going to play in a zone.
“It’s all good, though. We’ve got to get prepared to go in a tournament game and somebody play us 40 minutes of zone. Let’s be prepared to play against it.”
While Mississippi State will be looking for a marquee win tomorrow, teams like the Bulldogs also get excited to prove themselves against future UK NBA players like the Wildcats stars, Calipari said.
“They’re not only playing against the name on the front of the shirt, they’re playing against the name on the back of the shirt,” he said. “That’s what makes this unique and different. I don’t that we’re starting three freshmen. They don’t care. They’re looking at it like, hey, this guy is all this and that.”
UK can clinch the conference championship with a Florida loss to Auburn Tuesday and a win versus the Bulldogs, but Calipari is still focused on mental improvement.
“I’ve coached their bodies to three weeks ago, like conditioning and toughness,” he said. “Now we’re coaching minds, trying to get them in a great frame of mind as they go in as an individual and as a team.”