By LARRY VAUGHT
If you are a Kentucky fan that needs a pep talk about this year’s basketball team, then Mississippi State coach Ben Howland might be just what you need to feel better about the Wildcats.
He brings his team — which has won five straight SEC games— into Rupp Arena tonight trying to snap a 13-game losing streak against Kentucky that goes back to to the 2008-09 season when it actually won in Rupp Arena.
“You’ve got to play really well to beat anybody on the road, much less Kentucky which has the best home court advantage in our conference. It’s just a great atmosphere for basketball on a national level. I don’t know if there’s any better home court in the entire country,” Howland said.
Okay, that goes against the perception that many UK fans have about the crowd impact in Rupp Arena.
What about sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans, who had his worst overall game of the season at Auburn and has had five or more turnovers in four of the last 10 games?
“I think Hagans is really special,” Howland said. “He’ll be up for defensive player of the year. His hands are just lethal. He’s so good at anticipating and creating havoc with his defense on and off the ball.”
Nick Richards also had his streak of double-digit scoring games stopped at Auburn when the Tigers dominated the inside and had 17 offensive rebounds. How does Howland feel about him?
“Nick Richards has been an unbelievable story in terms of his growth as a player and how dominant he’s been over the course of the last dozen games or so,” Howland said.
“He’s a special talent and obviously a huge factor for them offensively. Both not only on the block, but he can face up and make 15-17 foot-shots which I didn’t know he could do until this year. He looks really good doing it.”
Now Kentucky fans just have to hope the Hagans and Richards that have impressed Howland both show up tonight.