UK looks to reverse trend vs. Heels

January 02, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Last year Kentucky gave North Carolina a dose of what the Wildcats have been receiving from opponents this year.

The Wildcats overcame a 43-40 halftime deficit at North Carolina by shooting 66.7 percent from the field in the second half to win 98-81, its third straight victory over the Tar Heels.

The rivals meet again Saturday in Rupp Arena and No. 8 Kentucky will be trying to reverse what has become a disturbing trend - building a big early lead and then losing most, or all of it, in the second half.

Kentucky (8-1) had a 17-point lead over Austin Peay in the second half Wednesday before the Governors cut the deficit to three points with less than three minutes to play before losing 61-53. Last Saturday UK had Louisville down 24-10 in the first half, but lost 65-56.


"We are playing hard, we just are not playing smart," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "We're taking questionable shots. Even when we run plays right, we don't finish like we should.

"Our focus really concerns me. We've been scouted well and people are taking things away from our players. They have to go to their second and third options on plays, and we're not doing that."

The Wildcats know their coach is upset. He benched all five starters during the first half against Austin Peay and walked away from the team after slamming his clipboard to the floor late in the game.

"That told us a lot about what he thought about our play," Kentucky senior guard Gerald Fitch said. "It's obvious we are not playing with the energy we need. We have a big game Saturday and we have to put it back together if we want to beat North Carolina. But I have no doubts we will be ready."

"We just didn't have it against Austin Peay," Erik Daniels, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the win, said. "We are going to have to play hard the entire 40 minutes to beat North Carolina because we know they are going to come in here with a lot of energy."

Ninth-ranked North Carolina (8-1) is averaging 91.1 points per game and shooting 48.4 percent from the field for first-year coach Roy Williams, who left Kansas after last season. Last year the Tar Heels scored only 72.1 points per game and shot 43.6 percent from the field.

North Carolina's only loss was a 119-114 overtime decision against Wake Forest. The only other ranked team it has played was Illinois, which it beat 88-81. North Carolina has played only two games outside its home state - at Cleveland State and against North Carolina-Wilmington in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

"We can't get discouraged right now," Kentucky sophomore Kelenna Azubuike said. "We just need to get back to playing Kentucky basketball. We need to come out against North Carolina and cut down on our mistakes. Basically, we just need to be more consistent because we know they have good players."

North Carolina may not be at full strength for Saturday's game that will be shown on CBS-TV, UK's fifth straight Saturday game on the network.

Sophomore forward-center Sean May, who had 21 rebounds in a Dec. 14 win over Akron, sprained his left ankle in the win over UNC-Wilmington Sunday and is listed as questionable. He's second in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 10.4 rebounds per game and also averages 16.1 points per game.

Junior forward Jawad Williams suffered a slight concussion in the same game. He's averaging 18.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

David Noel missed six weeks of practice and six games with a torn ligament in his right thumb. However, he had 16 points and six rebounds in 26 minutes of play in in the win over Coastal Carolina Tuesday to help offset the absence of May and Williams.

North Carolina's leading scorer is Rashad McCants at 19 points per game. He hit five 3-pointers and tied his career high with 28 points Tuesday. He's scored in double figures in 22 straight games.

Guard Raymond Felton, the preseason ACC Player of the Year, had 18 assists against George Mason on Dec. 7 and leads the ACC in assists at 8.67 per game. He had 11 points and 10 assists Tuesday. Melvin Scott had five 3-pointers against UNC-Wilmington and came back with 11 points and a career-high seven assists Tuesday.

"We know how good North Carolina is and that we have not been playing well," backup point guard Brandon Stockton said. "We know we have to play better or we're not going to win."

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