Mississippi State, like all Kentucky opponents, will not be solely concerned with winning the game, UK Coach John Calipari said Monday. The Bulldogs will also be influenced by what could be termed a desire to take on the fastest gun in college basketball.
"Every game you walk out there, somebody's trying to make a name at your expense," Calipari said he tells the UK players. "Somebody's trying to make their team's season at our expense."
That somebody in Starkville on Tuesday will be Mississippi State and its standout forward, Arnett Moultrie.
When asked whether Moultrie might see UK star freshman Anthony Davis as a means to enhance his NBA profile, Calipari warmed to the question. Not just Moultrie against Davis, he said, but practically every opponent against every Cat.
"I tell them, 'You know, guys, they're not just playing against the name on the front of the shirt,'" Calipari said. "'They're playing against the name on the back of the shirt.'
"That's what makes this unique and different."
Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury recoiled from the suggestion that Moultrie might want to bolster his reputation by out-dueling Davis.
"I wouldn't hope so," Stansbury said. "... The way you prove things is to help your team win. I don't think it's a Moultrie-Davis or -(Terrence) Jones thing at all."
To play and beat Kentucky, in and of itself, brings out the best in opponents, Stansbury said.
"That's not just this year's team," he said. "That's the way it's always been. I don't think any coach throughout the years has any problem when you talk about motivation (or) worrying about where your kids' mindset is (and) getting them ready to play Kentucky.
"Kentucky does two things. They bring out the best in you or they bring out the worst in you."
Bulldogs freshman Rodney Hood acknowledged the inspiration that comes with playing No. 1 Kentucky.
Just another game? "Of course not," he said. "It's Kentucky, the number one team in the country. Nobody thinks we can win against these guys that they say are future lottery picks. We don't plan to back down from them. Expect us to come and play."
Moultrie, a 6-foot-11 junior, would have to play exceptionally well to be more productive than he's already been. He's averaging a double-double: 16.5 points and 10.8 rebounds. That includes 15 double-doubles (seven in 12 SEC games).
"He's so consistent," Stansbury said earlier this season. "You know as a coach and teammate, every time you walk on the floor, you're going to get a tremendous effort from him (and) an unselfish effort. He doesn't get up and down emotionally with how many times 'I'm getting the ball' or 'how many shots I'm getting.' He defends and rebounds every night regardless of how he's doing on offense."
Stansbury pinned a loss at Arkansas to begin league play on Moultrie's six shots, which equalled a season low.
"Arkansas took us totally out of that," the State coach said of Moultrie's low-post game. "We've got to get him the ball, that's for sure."
Having grown up in Memphis, Moultrie began his college career at UTEP. He transferred after Coach Tony Barbee left to take the Auburn job.
Moultrie was a 6-6 guard in the ninth grade when he first interested Barbee.
"When he came to us as a freshman, he was 6-10, 195 (pounds)," Barbee said. "He was under the radar. He was not a ready-made prospect. He worked his tail off and turned himself into a heck of a player."
Moultrie did not averaged 10 points or double-digit rebounds in two seasons at UTEP, although he was a contributing player both seasons.
After transferring, Moultrie sat out the 2010-11 season. Still, he won over Stansbury.
"Well, he worked," Stansbury said. "He had a great attitude, and he worked. His engine always ran."
While Moultrie might try to raise his profile against Kentucky, he already has made his mark in the SEC.
"Real simple, he's a pro," LSU Coach Trent Johnson said of Moultrie. "It's one thing to be explosive. To be skilled is another. He's a great athlete who is a great basketball player."
Johnson joked that Stansbury's smile in the summer tipped off his anticipation of what Moultrie could do.
"He was real happy," the LSU coach said of Stansbury. "He had reason to be."