Vaught's Views: Smith added Eastern game for a reason

December 23, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Tubby Smith might make a mistake once, but he's not going to let it happen twice.

Smith altered his recruiting philosophy after several high-profile recruits - Marvin Stone, Rashaad Carruth and Jason Parker - turned out not to be the right fit for the University of Kentucky basketball program. Instead of looking for marquee players with big reputations, Smith now focuses on players who emphasize team play and are willing to sacrifice individual goals for the team's success.

The result was a 32-4 mark last year and a 6-0 start this season.

Now Smith hopes he has corrected another mistake he made last season. His Wildcats beat Indiana 70-64 in Louisville on Dec. 21, 2002. Since UK didn't have another game for seven days, Smith gave his team a few days off and most of the players went home.

The problem arose when several players arrived back late for practice, something Smith had never mentioned until Monday.


The Cats returned to Louisville for that Dec. 28, 2002, game and were trounced 81-63 in one of the more embarrassing losses in Smith's tenure at Kentucky.

Smith made sure not to have the same kind of break this year even though there once again is a week between the Indiana and Louisville games. The difference is that after beating Indiana 80-41 Saturday, the Cats will play Eastern Kentucky tonight before hosting Louisville this Saturday.

"Last year we had a week in between games and I thought it hurt us," said Smith. "We had one game three weeks in a row, just like we've had this year. We needed another game and this was one time we could work out to play Eastern Kentucky.

"Guys went home and got back late last year. It was a very negative atmosphere coming back (from the break) last year."

Smith wasn't making excuses. He just explained why the Eastern game was scheduled when it was when asked by a media member.

The Wildcats had Sunday off, but Smith openly encouraged players to be in the gym shooting. The same was true for Monday morning when the players had free time since classes are over until mid-January.

After playing Eastern tonight, UK will celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas by working out with Smith and his staff and having little free time to detract from Saturday's game with Louisville.

He knows it will be difficult for the players to focus on EKU

The coach knows how difficult it is for players to stay focused on tonight's game with a game against Rick Pitino and Louisville only a few days away.

"It's always tough for any team, especially when you are asked about it," Smith said of keeping the focus on Eastern Kentucky. "People didn't even know we had a game (Tuesday) night, so it's a challenge.

"I hope they can just focus on Eastern Kentucky. These guys are serious and know how we operate. We are not allowing any diversions to keep us from the task at hand."

It's probably no coincidence that Louisville also has a game tonight against VMI. That allows Pitino to keep the Cardinals in Louisville and also have them focus mainly on basketball - and Kentucky - without the holiday providing a huge break in the normal practice and game routine.

"Coach Smith really won't have to say a lot to us," Kentucky junior Chuck Hayes. "We all remember last year's game with Louisville, but we know better than to look ahead. We'll worry about Louisville after we play Eastern."

Smith certainly didn't lavish praise on his team for its 80-41 dismantling of Indiana.

"When you win you are humble and you've done your job," Smith said. "You are not doing anything anybody doesn't expect you to do. You are expected to play well every time you step on the court. When you don't play well is when I get upset. That's unexpected when they don't play well."

How else can one explain that Smith faulted UK's defense even though the Hoosiers shot just 24 percent had had only three players score a field goal? Smith said Indiana consistently beat his team off the dribble and got open shots it should have made but didn't.

He also questioned UK's rebounding despite the Cats' 54-25 advantage on the boards.

"When you evaluate the tape like me and my staff do, we have to be concerned about certain things," the UK coach said. "That's not to take anything away from this win or the accomplishments of our team, but they have to be reminded, just like we all do, that there's another day coming and another game to play."

And another lesson to be learned like the one Smith did last year at Christmas with his team.

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