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Updated: Sunday, March 16, 2003 9:44 AM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL PREVIEW
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No. 25 Mississippi St (21-8) vs No. 2 Kentucky (28-3)
MISSISSIPPI ST. BULLDOGS
Mississippi St. Bulldogs
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KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Kentucky Wildcats
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NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- Second-ranked Kentucky can stretch the nation's longest winning streak to 23 games and capture its 24th Southeastern Conference tournament championship when it faces No. 25 Mississippi State at the Louisiana Superdome.

Kentucky (28-3) is bidding to become the first team since the 1952 Wildcats squad to sweep the regular-season and conference tournament in the SEC. The 1995-96 Kentucky team also went unbeaten in the regular season and reached the tournament final before losing to Mississippi State.

Erik Daniels scored 17 points and Keith Bogans and Gerald Fitch each netted 13 as Kentucky advanced with a 78-58 victory over Auburn in the semifinals. After the score was tied, 36-36, at the break the Wildcats used 56 percent shooting in the second half to pull away.

Kentucky has won six of its last seven games with Mississippi State, including a 70-62 home victory on February 23. The Wildcats led by as many as 19 points before the Bulldogs climbed within five points with five minutes to play.

"They played us tough at home until the clock ran down," Bogans said. "Mario Austin is a good big man. We're going to have our hands full."

Austin collected 20 points and eight rebounds in defeat for the Bulldogs.

While Kentucky is looking to add to its titles, Mississippi State is bidding to repeat as SEC champions for the first time. The Bulldogs moved into their second straight final with a 76-61 victory over Louisiana State.

"Mississippi State is very capable of beating us," Wildcats coach Tubby Smith said. "They understand how to play in championship games."

Timmy Bowers scored a season-high 26 points and Austin scored 14 as Mississippi State built a 26-12 lead in the first half and never looked back. Derrick Zimmerman handed out 11 assists and needs six to tie Al Perry's school record of 510.

Afterward, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury joked about the differences between his team and Kentucky.

"Tubby, he can go out tonight," Stansbury said. "Go on Bourbon Street, relax and not worry about a thing. Kentucky being 16-0, us winning the West. We're two different teams."

The Bulldogs are 2-1 in championship games, beating Alabama last year and Kentucky in 1996. They lost to the Wildcats in the 1933 title game.


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