Cats will focus on game, not the record 75,000 fans

December 12, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Kentucky coach Tubby Smith wants his team to have "blinders" on Saturday when it plays Michigan State.

The two teams are expected to play in front of more than 75,000 fans at Ford Field in Detroit, the home of the NFL's Detroit Lions, as well as a national television audience.

"You have to put on blinders and not see all those things," said Smith. "Because of where we play and who we play in front of, I don't think all this will bother our veteran players.

"It will be part of history. Every time you read about the attendance record, Kentucky will be mentioned. That's a good thing, I hope."


The world attendance record for a basketball game is 75,000 and was set when the Harlem Globetrotters played an exhibition game in Berlin, Germany, in 1951. The college basketball record is 68,112, set on Jan. 20, 1990, at a Notre Dame-Louisiana State game at the Superdome in New Orleans.

"You can't really get caught up in those numbers," Kentucky point guard Cliff Hawkins said. "Then again, having a chance to be part of a world record is something you would remember."

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo remembers what it is like to play against a Tubby Smith-coached team. His team has already lost to Kansas, Duke and Oklahoma this year, but he expects Smith's pressure defense to be the best his team has seen.

"Oklahoma is more like us. They are not in your face, but just solid," Izzo said. "Duke played different than they had and really went at us. Kentucky can present as much problem, or more, than any of them. I think their pressure might be the best. I think Hawkins is very good. I think Gerald (Fitch) does a good job. They have more athletic players than last year's team and that presents a problem."

Turnovers have been a problem for the Spartans, who do not have a true point guard. In their three losses, they have averaged 21.3 turnovers. Still, Izzo says his team is not as bad as some might think despite its 3-3 record.

"There was no explanation for the Duke game (a 72-50 home loss)," Izzo said. "At Kansas (in an 81-74 loss), other than the turnovers, we played pretty good in a lot of ways. Against Oklahoma (in an 80-77 overtime loss), we had one bad stretch but we rebounded pretty well against a good team after that knockout from Duke.

"We've tried to work on taking care of the ball better. Some of our turnovers against Duke were ridiculous and were why we never were in the game."

Spartans have four players averaging in double figures

Michigan State has four players averaging in double figures and is led by 6-11 sophomore center Paul Davis (12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds per game). However, Izzo starts four guards with Davis and plays only one other player taller than 6-6.

Kentucky also starts a small lineup with 6-8 Erik Daniels at center and 6-6 Chuck Hayes at power forward.

"It's not like we'll do something different," Izzo said. "I never believe you can just change what you are and what you do to take advantage of a mismatch. At this level, with the way they collapse to the ball with their quickness, you just don't pound it inside. It's not like they are real, real small.

"On the defensive end, the biggest problem is that those big guys can put the ball on the floor, and they are also very good passers. Tubby is a little unique in that there will be a lot of cutting to the basket by wing guys and the big guys find them. They don't just spot up. Big guys that can pass do create problems for us."

Izzo certainly knows what Hayes can do. He was one of the first players Izzo picked for last summer's Pan American Games team because of his attitude and willingness to play hard every possession.

Hayes averages 10.8 points and a team-high 10.5 rebounds per game.

"He's small for his position. He doesn't shoot well from the perimeter. But he's one of those guys who wins for you," Izzo said. "Chuck Hayes is a perfect Tubby Smith player. I'd give my right arm for Chuck Hayes."

Hayes said Izzo is similar to Smith in that both "hate to lose" and never take anything for granted.

Hayes said Wednesday that he recognizes most of the plays the Spartans run and that he's been able to pass along tips to his teammates about Michigan State.

The Kentucky junior said he feels no added pressure playing against Izzo, who he plans to meet Saturday at the 50-yard line before the game.

"I'm looking forward to it. He was fun to play for and I know this will be the kind of tough, physical game that I like," Hayes said.

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