Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie, who prides himself in being a defensive-minded coach, has noticed what the Bulldogs have done. Opponents are shooting only 35.4 percent from the field against State and averaging just 61.1 points per game.
"They really do compete. They are giving up 44 points a game (in SEC play) and the last three teams have shot less than 30 percent. You don't find that often," Gillispie said. "They are really good on the perimeter. If you penetrate, you have to deal with a very good interior. I have never seen a guy block 16 or 17 shots in two games (like Varnado has).
"They really compete for every pass. No matter where you catch it, you have to earn every single thing you get. That is why they are guarding so well and why they are winning."
Stansbury feels UK's losing non-conference record overshadowed the way Gillispie's team has played defense most of the year.
"One thing Kentucky has done well all year long that has got lost is that they have really defended and played hard. They have done that consistently," Stansbury said. "They just have not been consistent at other end with their scoring."
'Kentucky can be as good as anybody'
Stansbury is not ready to write Kentucky off as a factor in the SEC race like many were before the Cats upset Vanderbilt on Saturday in double overtime.
"Kentucky can be as good as anybody. They have as good a low post player as there is in this league in Patrick Patterson. He is a load in there. He has great feet, he is a great seal guy and he's strong," Stansbury said. "They do everything they can to get the ball to Patrick Patterson, and I don't blame them. He is a special player. He is the focus of what they do offensively and is the real deal every game. He always plays hard.
"(Perry) Stevenson is also a big, athletic kid that impressed me against Vanderbilt. He doesn't score a lot, but he does some nice things."
Senior guards Joe Crawford (16.1 points per game) and Ramel Bradley (15.2 points, 3.4 assists) also impressed the Mississippi State coach.
"I always thought Bradley and Crawford were good players. They both are good at getting the ball to the basket. They are both capable scorers that can have big games any night and they are both playing a lot better than they were earlier in the season," Stansbury said.
So are the Bulldogs, who lost four games earlier when they had the lead in the final minute.
"We gave some games away early. It's a fine line with us. Four games we had the lead in the final minute and lost. We've just got a find a way to win those games," Stansbury said. "We have to shoot the ball better against Kentucky. If we do, we don't get as tired at the end of the game and that helps when you have to play as hard defensively as we do."
Stansbury's team won't be at full strength tonight. Sophomore guard Ben Hansbrough (9.8 points, 2.8 assists) fractured a finger on his left hand Saturday and is doubtful. Forward Charles Rhodes has not practiced in three weeks because of an ankle injury. He played in Saturday's win over Georgia after missing three games, but did not practice Sunday.
"Not having Hansbrough hurts us," Stansbury said. "Rhodes will play, but he's still not 100 percent."