BULLDOGS SURVIVING EARLY PART OF ROUGH SCHEDULE
GAINESVILLE, Fla. One Florida fan sitting in the student section Saturday wanted anybody who could hear him at the O'Connell Center to know his opinion of Mississippi State's basketball team.
"Hey, State, you don't look like a No. 17 team!" he screamed as the Bulldogs worked to set up a shot in the first half.
You're right, fellow. They don't, but they keep winning and that's all that matters.
The Bulldogs escaped the Sunshine State with another close shave win, beating the Gators 69-66 for their sixth consecutive road victory. The win gives State its best start in 29 seasons a 10-1 overall record and a 2-0 SEC mark.
"It was a good win for us," State coach Richard Williams said. "We don't get many down here. We're 2-0 in the league, and both of them are road wins. We haven't played at home since Dec. 9. To go on the road and win six consecutive games says a lot about our team.
"We haven't always played well, but we've played well enough to win."
They haven't always played well is right. To start the road trip, the Bulldogs battled back from the dead to beat Southern Miss in overtime. They played just "well enough" to beat Northeast Louisiana. They whipped a weak Oregon State team by 14 in the opening round of the Far West Classic. In the title game win over Nebraska they led by 15 at one point and trailed by three late.
Earlier this week at LSU they committed 27 turnovers, but played good enough "D" to keep the Tigers quiet.
But so what. Nobody's going to look back in March to see how they won the games.
Will all this "well enough" be good enough to beat second-ranked Kentucky in Tuesday night's ESPN (and Dick Vitale, too) SEC game at Humphrey Coliseum?
Six road games and then Kentucky at home. Who made up this schedule?
But Williams, whose team upset the Wildcats last season at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., is anxious to return home no matter who is waiting for his team even if it's UK.
"We certainly don't look at it as 'we have to go home and play Kentucky,''' he said. "I wish it wasn't on a Tuesday night, because we need a day off. But we can't afford to take a day off. We have to practice (today) and Monday to get ready for Kentucky. But that's the way the schedule falls. When you're on TV you play when they tell you to play."
Guard play key
The key to Tuesday night's game could very well be in the backcourt, where Kentucky has depth and State has none.
For the Bulldogs it's Darryl Wilson and Marcus Bullard. That's all, folks. Freshman Bart Hyche isn't ready for this kind of pressure. In Saturday's win over the Gators, Bullard played 40 minutes and Wilson rested for only 3 1/2. Look for it to continue.
"Forty minutes against Kentucky, I should be able to withstand it," said an exhausted Bullard, who then paused to take a gulp from a quart bottle of fluid replacement drink.
Wilson claims he doesn't get tired. So when you see him grabbing those shorts and bending over, "I'm just trying to get my second wind," he said, laughing. "It really doesn't matter who you're playing. You're going to get fatigued. But Marcus and I are keeping fluids in us. We'll be ready."
You can bet Kentucky, remembering last year's game, will be ready, too.
Gene Phelps is sports editor for the Daily Journal.