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Updated: Friday, March 14, 2003 11:06 AM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL PREVIEW
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Mississippi (14-14) vs No. 25 Mississippi St (19-8)
OLE MISS REBELS
Ole Miss Rebels
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MISSISSIPPI ST. BULLDOGS
Mississippi St. Bulldogs
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NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- No. 25 Mississippi State begins defense of its Southeastern Conference tournament title from a year ago on Friday when it faces arch-rival Mississippi in a quarterfinal matchup.

Mississippi State (19-8) defeated Florida, Louisiana State and Alabama last season in Atlanta to capture the school's second SEC tournament crown. The Bulldogs are trying to become the first team to repeat since Kentucky won three straight crowns from 1997-99.

The Bulldogs will have a familiar opponent with the Rebels, although the state rivals have never met in the SEC tournament. Mississippi State posted a pair of difficult victories over Mississippi this season.

All-SEC first team selection Mario Austin leads Mississippi State with 15.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Austin recently declared that he intends to return to Starkville for his senior season rather than jump to the NBA.

Derrick Zimmerman's driving layup with less than two seconds to go gave Mississippi State a 58-57 victory over Mississippi in the first meeting on January 29. Austin had 16 points and eight rebounds and Timmy Bowers added 15 points.

The second meeting was just as exciting as the Bulldogs pulled out a 68-64 overtime triumph on February 15. Austin's three-point play helped spark a decisive 7-0 run in the extra session that gave Mississippi State the lead for good with less than a minute left.

Ole Miss (14-14) advanced with a 62-56 victory over South Carolina on Thursday. Justin Reed scored 22 points and Derrick Allen grabbed 16 rebounds as the Rebels never trailed.

The winner will face Florida or Louisiana State in Saturday's semifinals.


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