Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Smith wants more running from Wildcats

The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Kentucky coach Tubby Smith sounds like he's talking football when he explains what the Wildcats have to do to beat Mississippi on Wednesday.

"We need to try to establish our running game," Smith said. "We need to run the floor and get some easy baskets."

Smith said that won't be easy against the Rebels (10-6, 2-3 Southeastern Conference), whom Smith compared to Georgia with their size and physical style of play. Georgia defeated the Wildcats 65-57 in Rupp Arena on Jan. 18, snapping Kentucky's 19-game regular-season SEC winning streak.

The Wildcats shot 37 percent in that game against the league's second-worst scoring defense. The Rebels rank fourth in the category.

"They're similar to Georgia and they're as physical as any team we've played this year," Smith said of the Rebels. "They play an aggressive man-to-man style. They do a good job of playing one-on-one post defense."

The fifth-ranked Wildcats (13-2, 3-1) have won two straight road games since Georgia ended their 14-game SEC home-court winning streak. The Cats' 71-63 win at Notre Dame last weekend followed a familiar script as Kentucky built a double-digit lead, then staved off an Irish rally.

Last season, the Wildcats routinely built big leads and kept them with smothering defense. Smith said this year's team expects to do the same, but can't.

"I think we were spoiled by last year's team, by being able to put people away pretty much by the end of the (first) half," he said. "This team is still learning how to put people away."

Putting the Rebels away has been no problem for Kentucky at Rupp Arena over the years. The Wildcats have won 42 of 44 meetings in Lexington, although Mississippi sprang an upset there in 1998.

"The last time we won (at Rupp), the big thing was we went into the game feeling like we had a really good team," Mississippi coach Rod Barnes said. "I remember being down at halftime and I remember, after the game, feeling the way we did. It was a great feeling. It's a rare feeling, but it's something that, as a team, we felt like we accomplished a lot."

Barnes also sees hope this time as the Rebels come in with two straight league wins.

Power forward Justin Reid was named the SEC Player of the Week after scoring 28 points in the Rebels' 71-60 win over Alabama on Saturday. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Reid had 16 points and 6-7 Aaron Harper had 22 points and five assists in Mississippi's 53-49 victory over LSU last Wednesday.

"Once you've beaten some teams, especially in this league, it gives you confidence," Barnes said. "Our big thing is going up there (to Kentucky) and playing the way we're capable of playing, giving ourselves the best chance we possibly can to win.

"That's going to be tough. But it's much better going up there after two wins than two losses."

Barnes said Kentucky is more vulnerable inside than in past seasons.

"We've had problems with guys who may be bigger," Barnes said. "It's not like we're going into Kentucky, where they have a kid like (Jamaal) Magloire or Nazr Mohammed or someone like that. You just don't have a matchup for them as far as size. The big thing is we're not looking at a guy who's 3 inches taller than our post players."

Smith is more concerned about turnovers. The Wildcats are averaging 16 per game, and Smith said taking care of the ball better is a major key against Ole Miss.

"We have to come in ready to fight the pressure that Ole Miss always brings," he said. "They're one of the best defensive teams year in and year out. They really pressure the ball."

The Rebels would fall on the wrong side of history if they lose on Wednesday. Kentucky is seeking its 400th win at Rupp Arena and 800th regular-season SEC victory.

No. 5 UK vs. Mississippi

Tipoff: 8 p.m. today, Rupp Arena (23,000), Lexington.

Records: UK 13-2 (3-1 Southeastern Conference), Ole Miss 10-6 (2-3).

Radio: WSAI-AM (1530).

TV: Ch. 25.

Line: UK by 15 1/2.


Chris RhodesJr.6-70.4
Aaron HarperSr.6-715.1
Justin ReedSr.6-818.6
Justin JohnsonJr.6-06.1
Todd AbernethyFr.6-15.8
Coach: Rod Barnes (47-49, sixth season; same overall).


Kelenna AzubuikeSo.6-510.0
Chuck HayesJr.6-612.4
Erik DanielsSr.6-814.8
Gerald FitchSr.6-316.5
Cliff HawkinsSr.6-19.4
Coach: Tubby Smith (177-49, seventh season; 301-111 overall).

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