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Opponent Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

The Mississippi State Bulldogs travel to Kentucky to face-off with the No. 8 Wildcats

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

After dropping the first two SEC games, the 22nd ranked Mississippi Bulldogs (14-3, 2-2) have reeled off two straight wins to get back to competing for the SEC. No. 8 Kentucky (14-3, 4-1) opened conference play with a 77-75 loss to Alabama, but has put that behind them as they’ve won the last 4 by an average margin of 10.5 points. The Bulldogs seemed to have lost their confidence the first two games, but have looked like a different team since their loss to Ole Miss. MSU looks to keep the positive play going and leave Lexington with a statement win.

Mississippi State played one of its best halves of basketball in the 2nd half against Vanderbilt. Head Coach Ben Howland is utilizing his stud freshman more and it’s turning into more baskets. Reggie Perry is a force down low and Robert Woodard makes his presence known in the mid-range area and around the rim. If the Bulldogs can find a way to beat the Wildcats, it will be a huge confidence boost and might carry them through the rest of the schedule.

Kentucky has their usual freshman-heavy roster. 7 players on the roster are freshman; 5 are sophomores, juniors, or seniors. Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, and Ashton Hagans are all starting freshman for UK. Johnson and Herro lead the Wildcats in scoring while Hagans is in the middle of the pack. Senior Reid Travis and sophomore PJ Washington close out the starting lineup and also average double-digit points. The Bulldogs will have a tough task to prevent Kentucky from scoring, but it has been done.

Kentucky was held to a season-low 56 points against Vanderbilt at Rupp Arena on January 12. In that game, UK shot 50% from the field, was 4/16 (25%) from 3, and 57.1% from the free throw line. Mississippi State will have to do a lot to cause the Wildcats to shoot that poorly again. In their last outing, Kentucky defeated No. 14 Auburn 82-80. Auburn kept the game close by shooting 13-30 (43.3%) from deep. This can give us Bulldog fans hope because of the way MSU has been shooting the ball most of the season.

MSU had a fluke against Ole Miss in terms of shooting the ball, but went right back to their ways against Florida and Vanderbilt. If the Bulldogs are going to beat Kentucky, they’ll have to capitalize on opportunities on the perimeter. Drive into the lane, draw the defense, kick out to the open man, hit the shot, leave with the win. Hail State!