January 8, 2010 9:44:00 AM
Barry Stewart''s defensive skills will be put to the test Saturday.
The Mississippi State senior guard will have to switch from guarding the talented University of Mississippi duo of sophomore Terrico White and junior Chris Warren.
While Stewart plays his usual off-guard spot, he''ll have to defend White. When he''s asked to spell sophomore Dee Bost at point guard, Stewart will have to deal with Warren.
That''s the challenge Stewart will face when the Bulldogs travel to Oxford to play their Southeastern Conference rival at 12:30 p.m. (WCBI).
"Barry Stewart is a guy we ask to do a whole lot defensively for us, but then again I ask him to play backup point guard," MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. "That''s not easy, but that''s just where we are. We''ve got to find way to make that work."
Stansbury said that on-the-job training isn''t the best thing to do when you play against Warren and White.
White (17.3 points per game) is the third-leading scorer in the Southeastern Conference, while Warren is sixth at (16.9 ppg.) for the 14th-ranked Rebels.
"You''ve got two serious set of problems in Warren and White," Stansbury said. "Those guys can really score off the dribble and can make a shot. That''s what makes them so difficult to defend. If they were just 3-point shooters, it would be a little easier."
The Rebels didn''t have the dual-threat at guard last season after Warren hurt his knee, but it gave White a chance to develop. Junior Eniel Polynice, the other starting guard, averages 10.6 ppg. and leads the team with 64 assists.
Stansbury said everyone knows about Warren and White, but wants his squad to know that it''s important not to go to sleep on Polynice or junior Zach Graham.
"They have as good a set of guards as there is in this league, or in the country," Stansbury said. "Graham is a guy, too, that can really do a lot of things, and Polynice is a guy who manufactures a lot. They have great depth coming off that bench."
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy can only imagine how his team would perform if a fifth guard, Trevor Gaskins, could find his shooting touch.
"We''re a team that''s guard-heavy at times, and we want to play to the strengths of our personnel," Kennedy said. "Chris Warren, Terrico White, and Zach Graham have been shooting the ball very effectively for us early.
"We''ve shot it well (47 percent), despite the fact that Trevor Gaskins, to this point, is below the Mendoza line of .200. He''s coming into the season as one of our better shooters. He''s just been mired in an early season slump. If you took him out of the equation, we would be over 50 percent as a team."
Stewart usually gets the defensive assignment of defending the opponent''s best scorer. He might have to draw straws against the Rebels.
"I know they''ve got three guys out there that''s pretty quick and pretty athletic," Stewart said.
With the ability for its guards to score, Ole Miss leads the SEC in scoring at 84.2 points per game. Mississippi State leads the league in scoring defense, only giving up 58.5 points per outing.
"The one thing we''ve done, and done it pretty consistently, is defend, and, for the most part, have done a decent job of rebounding," Stansbury said. "Even when we have turnovers, missed shots, and missed free throws, we still have a chance to win, but only because of our ability to defend."
Kennedy likes how the Rebels have been playing defensively and knows his team will be tested Saturday.
MSU is the SEC''s leading 3-point shooting team at 41 percent (148 of 363), while Ole Miss is fourth in the league in defending shots from long range, holding teams to 32 percent (78 of 245).
"Our perimeter defense, because of our length and athleticism on the outside in, has been beneficial to this point," Kennedy said.
Even though the Bulldogs have been shooting well behind the arc, Stewart and Bost have struggled of late, shooting 1 of 13 in the past two games.
Stewart said MSU''s identity is shooting 3-pointers, but may try another strategy to keep from "living by the three and dying by the three."
"Dee and I can get into the lane and go by people," Stewart said. "We''ll have to use that a little bit more and not rely on the three as much."
It could also mean trying to get the ball inside more to senior center Jarvis Varnado (14.3 ppg.)
The Bulldogs (12-3) and Rebels (12-2) don''t believe the added emphasis of the SEC opener in a rivalry game will make it more intense.
Kennedy, Stansbury, and Stewart agree it''s going to be that way for the next 16 games in the conference.
"We''re going to bring it every nigh, and I know they are the type of team that''s going to bring it every night," Stewart said. "I know (Tad Smith Coliseum) is a tough place to play, but so is the Hump (Humphrey Coliseum). It''s going to be hard and tough in Oxford, but I think the coaches will prepare us well."
The Bulldogs were picked to win the SEC Western Division in the preseason media poll. The Rebels were picked second.
Even though a win against MSU would serve as a good start, Kennedy knows it''s going to take more than one game to determine the league race.
"When you get into league play every game is going to be a war, regardless of where people pick you to finish in the pecking order," Kennedy said.