Sutton knows the tough task ahead for Tech

November 28, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - No one has to convince Tennessee Tech coach Mike Sutton about what his team will be up against tonight.

"Kentucky is the best program in all of college basketball, and Rupp Arena is one of the great venues," said Sutton. "That guy coaching for Kentucky is one of the best, if not the best, in the business, too."

Sutton should know. Not only did he coach under Tubby Smith at Kentucky before leaving to become Tech's head coach last year, but he also coached under Smith at Tulsa and Georgia. The two also spent one season together coaching in high school before later working together again as assistants at Virginia Commonwealth.

Sutton helped recruit Kentucky's juniors and seniors.

"It's going to be a little different looking down at the other end and seeing a guy who was in your house recruiting you for Kentucky coaching the other team," Kentucky junior Chuck Hayes said. "Both coaches have the same philosophy. We're going to see the same plays, same defensive schemes. It will be kind of like a practice all over again. It will be kind of neat, but it will also be different."


Senior guard Gerald Fitch said Kentucky didn't have to do a lot to prepare for Tech's offense.

"But at the same time, on our end we are going to have to execute because we know they're going to be expecting our plays, too," Fitch said.

Sutton acknowledged he uses many of the principles Smith taught him. But he says there's one major difference between the teams tonight.

"There's just a little bit of difference in the players on both teams," Sutton, who lost four starters off last year's 20-12 team, said. "I haven't totally researched our history, but Kentucky is the best team Tech has played in at least five or six years. I'd like to have a couple of those guys playing for us."

Tech has beaten two NAIA teams

Tennessee Tech, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, has beaten two NAIA teams - Virginia Intermont and Virginia-Wise. Junior forward Willie Jenkins scored 27 points in the 90-47 rout of Virginia-Wise earlier this week.

Senior guard Cameron Crisp is Tech's top returning player. He averaged 13.6 points last year and led the Golden Eagles (2-0) in assists (144) and steals (50).

Tech's biggest player is 6-9 center Rusty Strange, but he'll play only a limited role tonight because of an injury.

"We don't have a very big team, and we certainly are not going to overpower anyone, especially Kentucky," Sutton said.

The Wildcats (1-0) had an impressive defensive debut as they limited Winthrop to 44 points last week. However, the Cats made 24 turnovers, including 19 by the starting five.

"Turnovers were our biggest problem," Smith said. "A lot of that was from playing too fast, being overanxious and trying to make plays that weren't there. A lot of the turnovers were just errors of judgment and mental lapses.

"We had so many people trying to handle the ball. That was the first problem. We were just trying to attack too quick. A lot of the turnovers came in the half-court set when we were dribbling when we should have been passing."

Smith has emphasized to his team in practice, including two on Thanksgiving Day, that ballhandling and passing must improve in tonight's game.

"We have to take care of the ball," Fitch said. "We had a lot of turnovers the last game, and you can't keep doing that and expect to win. We know Tennessee Tech likes to get up and down the floor just like we do. If we just take care of the ball, everything else will take care of itself. The team that plays the hardest, takes care of the ball and shoots the best will win no matter who you are playing.'

Senior Antwain Barbour will make his first appearance of the season tonight for Kentucky after being suspended for the Wildcats' two exhibition games and season opener.

"He's a lot better player than last year. People will finally get to see that," Kentucky guard Cliff Hawkins said.

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