UK Notebook: December will again test Smith's Cats

August 13, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Kentucky won't lack for marquee games in December to prepare for Southeastern Conference play.

Coach Tubby Smith's Wildcats will play four nationally televised games in December as part of what Smith calls "one of the toughest, if not the toughest, schedules in the nation."

Kentucky will play UCLA in Anaheim, Calif., on Dec. 6. A week later the Cats will be in Detroit to take on Michigan State in front of a crowd that could top 75,000 and set a world attendance record in the "Basket Bowl." Both teams have already been ranked in the top five of some preseason polls.

On Dec. 20, UK will play in front of another big crowd when it faces Indiana in Indianapolis in the RCA Dome. The string of marquee December TV games ends with Rick Pitino's second trip to Rupp Arena with the Louisville Cardinals on Dec. 27. All four games are scheduled to be shown on CBS-TV.


"We know it will be a challenge every time we step on the court, but we look forward to the challenge," Smith said in a release through UK. "Our expectations remain the same no matter who the opponent."

Those expectations soared last season when UK went undefeated in Southeastern Conference play, won the SEC Tournament and reached the NCAA Midwest Region title game. Kentucky finished 32-4, and despite losing two starters - Keith Bogans and Marquis Estill - still returns Cliff Hawkins, Chuck Hayes, Gerald Fitch, Erik Daniels, Antwain Barbour and Kelenna Azubuike.

Kentucky will play on national television 14 times - nine on CBS and five on ESPN. Again this season every Kentucky game will be televised either live or on a delayed basis. All 16 SEC games will be on either live national or regional TV.

The Cats will play nine teams that made the NCAA Tournament last year.

Kentucky is scheduled to open the season Nov. 19 when it hosts an eight-team, three-day Black Coaches Association Invitational at Rupp Arena. No teams or game times were announced Tuesday along with the other schedule information because Kentucky officials are still waiting to make sure a court challenge to an NCAA ruling limiting teams to playing in exempt games only twice in four years is upheld. If not, UK will open the season Nov. 21 by hosting Winthrop.

The Wildcats will play Tennessee Tech, coached by former UK assistant MIke Sutton, on Nov. 28 before going to Cincinnati three days later to play Marshall. Kentucky also hosts Eastern, coached by former UK guard Travis Ford, on Dec. 23.

The schedule even includes a rare New Year's Eve game against Austin Peay. Tip-off will be at 4 p.m.

One of the marquee games in Rupp Arena will be when coach Roy Williams brings his first North Carolina team here on Jan. 3 in UK's final game before SEC play starts.

Kentucky will play three late ESPN road games at Mississippi State, Tennessee and Florida during conference play. A nationally televised game at Notre Dame Jan. 25 will be UK's only break from conference play the last two months of the season. Kentucky's Senior Day game will be March 7 against Florida.

"We have a tough conference road schedule this year with lots of late night games," Smith said. "That's definitely a worry when you are dealing with student-athletes who have classroom obligations to deal with the following day."

The Wildcats open practice with Midnight Madness on Oct. 17.

Brooks pleased: Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks liked what his team accomplished during its two practices Tuesday.

"Even though we're adding new stuff every day, the players are keeping up pretty well," Brooks said. "We should have most (offensive and defensive plays) installed by the weekend. Most of what we're putting in now we did in the spring, with a few wrinkles we added since the end of spring.

"They (the players) are a little dead-legged and sore, but they're pushing through it, which is encouraging."

Brooks is pleased with the progress the defense has made and defensive coordinator Mike Archer says the competition at inside linebacker will push current starters Dustin Williams and Justin Haydock to get even better.

"Nobody owns a starting position in preseason practice," Archer said. "The University of Kentucky owns the starting jobs and they have to be earned every day. Jon Sumrall played very well this morning and he moved up (the depth chart) in the afternoon (practice). Kamaal Ahmad also has been pushing hard and Chad Anderson is having a nice camp. We have to have competition for positions in order to improve as a team."

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