Freshman DeMarcus Cousins has gotten hundreds of messages from Mississippi State fans, who found out the big man’s phone number before Kentucky’s visit to Starkville.
He hopes to return them all with his performance on Tuesday night.
Cousins and the second-ranked Wildcats seek a sixth straight victory as they square off with the Bulldogs, who’ve won 11 straight home games and three in a row against Kentucky.
Despite matching a season low with five points in his most recent game, Cousins is still averaging 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds during an impressive first season, earning him enough notoriety to receive a flood of text messages and voicemails over the weekend.
“Some were racial, and others were girls like, ‘Let’s make out.’ I don’t know what to expect from Starkville.” Cousins said.
“I’m going to change (the phone number) after the game,” he added. “I want to see what they have to say then.”
Kentucky (24-1, 9-1 SEC) is certainly expecting another victory after a pair of 11-point home wins last week nudged the team up one spot to second in the AP poll, behind only Kansas.
The Wildcats beat then-No. 12 Tennessee 73-62 on Saturday even though a rattled Cousins went 1 of 8 from the free throw line. Guards John Wall and Eric Bledsoe—Kentucky’s other freshman stars—picked up the slack with a combined 40 points.
“When the other team is frustrating DeMarcus we have to step up,” Bledsoe said. “DeMarcus is one of the key players in our offense. They were kind of beating him up on offense and defense and he was getting frustrated. John and I just had to step up.”
Cousins will face another difficult matchup against Mississippi State senior Jarvis Varnado, the SEC’s only other player averaging double figures in points and rebounds.
Varnado leads the SEC and ranks sixth nationally with 11.3 rebounds per game, and he’s second in NCAA history with 519 career blocked shots. He has a total of 17 blocks and 24 rebounds in Mississippi State’s last two meetings with the Wildcats.
“They’re two different kinds of players,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “One is going to block shots and be active and be quicker to the ball. The other is just a hard matchup for teams.”
Varnado and a barrage of 3-pointers have helped the Bulldogs (18-7, 6-4) into a tie with Arkansas atop the SEC West. Mississippi State went 11 of 34 from beyond the 3-point arc in an 85-75 overtime win over Auburn on Saturday.
Sophomore guard Dee Bost had a career-high 32 points, hitting 7 of 12 from 3-point range to help the Bulldogs improve to 11-1 at home despite a season-opening 88-74 loss to Rider on Nov. 13.
“If I knew what made him do that, I wouldn’t be here,” Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said of Bost. “He attacked with a lot of confidence and made a lot of plays. If I had the answer for sure, I’d bottle it up and pull it back out Tuesday night.”
Mississippi State made 14 of 27 3-point attempts in its 66-57 win at Rupp Arena on Feb. 3, 2009, and Calipari said he expects a similar approach from the Bulldogs as they try to win a fourth straight against Kentucky for the first time in school history.
“They are going to shoot them whether you are there or not, you just have to make them hard,” Calipari said. “You have to understand what you’re playing against. You can’t fall asleep.”