Mississippi State renews its rivalry with Ole Miss on Wednesday (8 p.m., CSS), and we spoke with both head coaches on this morning’s SEC teleconference. The Bulldogs (7-13, 2-6 SEC) have lost six in a row, including a pair of heartbreakers at home last week to Texas A&M (55-49 in OT) and LSU (69-68). Ole Miss (17-4, 6-2) lost last week to Kentucky and Florida.
Here’s the full transcript of MSU coach Rick Ray, and then I’ll have some highlights of Ole Miss’ Andy Kennedy.
Tough week for us on the basketball court. I thought we were competitive in two games. The first two halves of the LSU and the Texas A&M games were the best that we’ve played in SEC play, including our two wins. The unfortunate part of it is I thought in the second half that we made some mistakes that ended up giving us not a chance to win the ballgame. The Texas A&M game we had way too many turnovers, and then obviously in that game against LSU we were just horrid from the free throw line. If we can figure out a way to correct those mistakes, and if we continue to play defense the way we played in those first two halves, we have a chance to win. But we can’t beat ourselves.
Are you, new guys well-educated in the Ole Miss rivalry?
I think guys understand the importance of a rivalry, but you’ve also got to break things down as far as how you execute throughout the course of the game. I’m not going to get into how important this game is to the fan base and to us and things like that. I’m going to work on giving our guys a way to win the ballgame. If you just put it on emotion, then if you don’t have emotion and things don’t go well, where do you turn? So you better have a way as far as X’s and O’s and the way you’re going to execute to actually try to win the ballgame.
Arkansas is getting ready to play Florida on Tuesday night. How do you see that match-up shaping up and how good is Florida?
I think Florida is playing better than anybody in the nation at this point in time. As far as that particular match-up, it’s going to be interesting to see how Arkansas is able to press Florida. I think that’s going to be a huge factor there because I think Florida has so many guys who can dribble, pass and shoot on their perimeter, including Erik Murphy, that pressing may lead to some easy offense for Florida. I don’t know if Arkansas will have to back up the press because of that and play straight up man-to-man, or if that press is actually going to effect Florida. That will be the interesting match-up.
What impresses you the most about Florida?
Well, I think it’s two-fold. I think on the offensive end it’s their willingness to share the basketball. When you have a lot of good players that are talented like Florida has, sometimes you can get into a situation where guys don’t share the basketball and I think that’s their No. 1 attribute: they do a great job sharing the basketball. I think defensively it’s the same thing. When you have a lot of good offensive players, sometimes they don’t want to play great team defense and I think it’s pretty evident that they’re playing great team defense.
Now for some selected Kennedy quotes.
This week marks the the midpoint of league play. We’re coming off a tough week, two tough losses to two good teams and had to deal with some personnel issues as it relates to injuries. But I’m looking forward to getting back home Wednesday and hosting our in-state rival.
What’ve you seen of MSU in its last two games?
Rick’s doing a good job. Those kids are playing really hard, and they’re giving themselves a chance to win. They’re obviously dealing with some inexperienced players, and with that sometimes the other team just happens to be making a play that could have easily won both of the games. I have seen them in preparation for our game. Against A&M they led throughout the course of the game, and then lose in overtime. In their last outing they’re up 17 points, and they’re playing as well as I’ve seen them play all year. Then LSU made some plays down the stretch to get them. I think Mississippi State’s improving, and that’s a credit to Rick and his staff.
When MSU is playing well, what’s working for them that concerns you?
They’re a motion-based team, and typically when you play a motion-based team it’s not as easy to scout simply because they’re going to take what the defense gives you. They’ve got some guys that can make shots. Gavin Ware has gotten much more comfortable, as typically most freshmen do as they garner more experience, and he is giving them a low-post scoring threat. Defensively they’re playing hard and not giving you anything easy.