Cats worry Felton

January 16, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Georgia coach Dennis Felton says Kentucky "rarely" loses in Rupp Arena.

Numbers support his claim as the Cats have won 89.7 percent of their games during their 28 years of playing in Rupp Arena. However, the last time Felton brought a team to Rupp Arena he left a winner as Western Kentucky stunned the Wildcats 64-52 in the 2001-2002 season opener.

Felton will bring his first Georgia team here Saturday to play No. 7 Kentucky. He readily admits that his Bulldogs (8-5) might not have what it takes to win at Kentucky.

"They rarely get beat by anybody there," said Felton. "What it takes to win at Rupp Arena is that you have to have a team that competes at the same level they do. You need a team that understands how to play with a great deal of mental toughness and team togetherness. You have to defend tough and compete on the glass, two things they always do well.


"Our Western Kentucky team had grown to a point where we were ready to compete at that level. Our players knew how to be tough and resilient. We are in the initial stages of learning those lessons at Georgia. We have the ability to do it, but have not shown the consistency to do it every night."

Yet Georgia did stun Georgia Tech 83-80 in overtime Jan. 3. However, the Bulldogs are 0-2 in Southeastern Conference play after losing at Tennessee and at home to South Carolina.

Kentucky (11-1, 2-0) is coming off a 67-66 win at Mississippi State Tuesday that has coach Tubby Smith worrying about how his team might react after what he called an "uplifting win" on the road. He also worries that Georgia is better than some people might realize.

"They are trying to implement a new style and system. I know Dennis is getting his team in a position that they will be able to play his style," Smith said. "I was impressed with their win over Georgia Tech. We know they are a good team that could present a lot of problems for us."

The Bulldogs lack the depth they had last year when they were considered one of the nation's best teams before a series of NCAA violations resulted in the team being barred from postseason play and led to the dismissal of coach Jim Harrick. However, Georgia does have an experienced starting lineup.

Senior forward Jonas Hayes earned SEC Player of the Week honors when the Bulldogs upset No. 12 Georgia Tech.

Three other seniors - guard-forward Damien Wilkins, point guard Rashad Wright and forward Chris Daniels - played regularly last year. The fifth starter is freshman shooting guard Levi Stukes, who had 18 points in his SEC debut against Tennessee.

"Whether Levi is ready for this or not is irrelevant," Felton said. "He's going to be out there playing."

Felton's team lacks experienced depth. He has three freshmen that average at least 11 minutes per game, but Georgia relies on its five starters to play the bulk of the time.

Smith also has relied on his starting five to play extensive minutes. Four starters played 33 or more minutes in Tuesday's win at Mississippi State and Erik Daniels certainly would have played more than 22 minutes if not for foul problems.

Reserve Bernard Cote did have his third straight solid outing with five points, one rebound and one blocked shot in 18 minutes. However, no other reserve played more than six minutes.

The Cats, as they have often this year, let big leads slip away. Kentucky led by 18 points in the first half and 16 in the second half before falling behind in the final minutes.

Smith said he's been evaluating why UK has lost so many big leads, including a 24-10 advantage in its only loss to Louisville, and says he would like to use more players, especially in the second half. He says he's gaining confidence in Cote, Ravi Moss and Josh Carrier and hopes other players will soon join that list.

"We see every day who is getting better," Smith said. "We know who we think can give us what we need at a specific time."

Felton thinks Smith has plenty of talent available to use.

"(Gerald) Fitch is playing great basketball and is on fire offensively," Felton said. "He's a tough, arrogant competitor and is the heart and soul of their team. Chuck Hayes is very similar. He's very versatile and relentless in the effort he plays with. Cliff (Hawkins) at the point is super quick and really good at running the team and making things happen. (Erik) Daniels is giving everybody fits.

"Kentucky is not as good as it is because of one or two guys. You get that way because you have terrific players that make up a team."

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