Knoxville is a welcome sight for Cats, Vols

January 20, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Coaches Buzz Peterson of Tennessee and Tubby Smith of Kentucky both are glad that tonight's game is being played in Knoxville and not Lexington's Rupp Arena.

Peterson's Volunteers have won all nine of their games at home, including an 89-65 victory over Georgia, and are averaging 86.7 points per game. On the road, though, Tennessee is only 1-3, including an 85-64 loss at South Carolina Saturday, and scores just 64.2 points per game.

The No. 9 Wildcats are 6-0 in games away from Rupp Arena, but just 5-2 in games at Rupp, including a 65-57 loss to Georgia Saturday.

"We're trying to figure out why we are so inconsistent, home and away," said Peterson. "It's kind of mind-boggling to figure out what's going on. I'm glad we're at home against Kentucky. We play with a lot more confidence and energy at home."


Smith said Tennessee, which beat Vanderbilt in its last home game, is like most teams that play better at home. The Vols are one of only six Division I teams without a scholarship senior.

"They seem like a young team and young teams respond to the crowd behind them and not as well on the road when the crowd is against them," Smith said.

Yet Smith's veteran teams seems to play its best away from Rupp Arena and has a nine-game SEC road win streak going into tonight's game.

"At home, we may feel pressure to do more," the Kentucky coach said. "There are extrinsic rewards. Your girlfriend may give you a bigger kiss or mom and dad might be happier. There's not that immediate gratification on the road."

Start of a crucial stretch for Cats

This starts a crucial stretch for Kentucky (11-2, 2-1 Southeastern Conference). The Cats play four of their next five games away, including stops at No. 17 Florida Feb. 3 and No. 22 Vanderbilt Jan. 31.

He said Monday that his team had yet to put together a "full game" and that the Cats had struggled when they were forced to play a half-court game like Georgia's physical defense and rebounding dictated.

Smith noted that UK lacked a proven inside scorer this year, but that only Georgia and Louisville had made the Cats pay the price for not having a go-to player inside.

"We've been dealing with that all year," Smith said. "We've been able to camouflage it. Usually we are able to get in our press early because of our fast starts. Then we got beat on the boards (by Georgia) and couldn't run like we wanted."

Smith said he also has several players, including starting guards Gerald Fitch and Cliff Hawkins, who struggle with their emotions and other parts of their game when they are having trouble making shots.

"Cliff is probably the one affected the most by us not playing our style," Smith said. "We want him to push the ball up the court. If he's not, it affects his temperament and whole game.

"We've been fighting that from day one. That has been the MO (mode of operation) of this team other than Chuck (Hayes). Gerald (Fitch) has been a consistent scorer, but other areas drop off if he's not making shots.

"But we are sitting here 11-2. We are still going to be pretty good. Put it that way."

McFadgon leads SEC in scoring

Smith said Tennessee is good, too. Memphis transfer Scooter McFadgon, a junior guard, leads the SEC in scoring at 18.1 points per game. He's shooting 93.7 percent from the free throw line.

Sophomore point guard C.J. Watson leads the SEC in assists at 6.1 per game and also averages 11.8 points. Forward Brandon Crump adds 15.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game

"C.J. is one of the best point guards around and has good offensive skills," Smith said. "He makes free throws and always makes the right decisions with the ball. Crump is not a bulky, lean-on guy. He's mobile, agile and two inches taller than anybody we have. Scooter is really a good scorer. They have a really good team."

Smith said he has not seriously contemplated lineup changes to spark his team. He noted that while his bench played better against Georgia, his reserves were still a combined 1-for-11 from the field and produced only nine points in 51 minutes of play.

"There's a fine line between winning and losing. We've been skating on the edge all year and finally it caught up with us (against Georgia)," Smith said.

That's why the Cats think it is important to start another win streak tonight. They won 74-71 in Knoxville to start their sweep of SEC opponents, but the Vols have won three of the last five games in Knoxville.

"It's important for us to go out there and beat Tennessee," Hawkins said. "We have to play our butts off and get a win.

"Sometimes a loss can help you, but I don't like to lose. Nobody on our team does, but we are not going to get down on ourselves. We're just going to go out and play better."

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