Cats again look to start something

December 31, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - On paper, Austin Peay would look like one of those "feel good" games that Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said helped his team start its 26-game winning streak last year after losing to Louisville.

But Smith says if Kentucky doesn't play much better than it did in Saturday's 65-56 loss to Louisville, then there won't be anything to feel good about after today's game in Louisville.

"Austin Peay is not going to fold," Smith said. "They are a crafty, experienced team. They know how to play. They are men. They have been in a winning program."

Austin Peay (3-6) won 23 games last year when it reached the NCAA Tournament and was the preseason choice to win the Ohio Valley Conference this year.


However, a schedule recently ranked as the nation's fifth toughest in the Sagarin ratings has taken a toll on the Governors. So has shooting 44.2 percent from the floor and 57.6 percent at the foul line along with committing 17.8 turnovers per game the last five outings.

"I think they feel they can come in here and beat us because of what Louisville did to us," Kentucky senior guard Gerald Fitch said. "We took a tough loss, and I'm sure they want to give us another one.

"We've got to get our stuff together for this game and start another run. We still have confidence, but we just have to grind it out better. We have to go back to basics. We know what we did wrong against Louisville."

Smith said the Wildcats did about everything possible wrong after getting off to a 24-10 lead against Louisville. Just as he did after the game, he again had the harshest criticism for UK's defense.

"We are noted for not giving up easy baskets," the Kentucky coach said. "I don't know how many we gave up. It was just ridiculous. It was a complete lockdown mentally."

Smith said there was not any player in particular who caused the breakdowns.

"We played about as well as we could the first few minutes, then the second half played about the worst we could," Smith said. "It was not just one player, but a whole group. It was really depressing."

Austin Peay center Josh Lewis, a Lexington native, averages 10.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game and has 193 career blocked shots, the fourth best mark in OVC history.

"We don't have anybody who averages two blocks per game," Smith said. "We are not that big and tall inside. Shot-blockers can change our shots like Louisville did. I would like to see us draw more fouls rather than fade away from the basket to shoot."

Senior Adrian Henning averages 13.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game for Austin Peay, while junior Anthony Davis adds 12.4 points per game.

Austin Peay's three wins have been over Knoxville, Evansville and Maryville (Tenn.). The Governors have lost to Belmont, Memphis, Alabama, Western Kentucky, Louisville and Middle Tennessee. The Cardinals beat Austin Peay 80-63 on Dec. 20 in Freedom Hall.

"They have a good team," Smith said. "Henning, Davis and Lewis are all good players.

"Last year we had a team to get well on (after losing to Louis-ville). Guys could feel good and gain confidence. This is a much better team we are playing."

Kentucky will have its fifth straight Saturday game on national television when its hosts North Carolina this weekend. However, Smith says not to worry about the Wildcats overlooking Austin Peay.

"The way we are coming off a loss, we'd better be emotionally charged," Smith said. "They will be. It's a chance for us to get back to playing Kentucky basketball.

"It's my job to make sure they know not to worry about the past, but to move on because no mistakes will be tolerated."

That philosophy is why Smith has had trouble going to his bench more. Only seven players have played in all eight games, and UK's five starters are averaging between 25 and 31 minutes per game despite the one-sided wins Kentucky has had over Tennessee Tech, Indiana and Eastern Kentucky.

Smith indicated in mid-October that he would be more patient with his younger players as they adjusted to his system. However, other than Lukasz Obrzut, he's kept his other freshmen on the bench.

"We just have not had that luxury with our schedule. That's been a problem," Smith said. "They (the reserves) are getting better. I keep giving them credit. Now they need to give me some back. It's a big difference going from practice to games, but we need to get some help from some more guys."

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