Rebels' experience concerns Smith

January 27, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Before Kentucky played Georgia, Tubby Smith warned everyone that playing in Rupp Arena against a team perceived not to be among the Southeastern Conference's best did not guarantee a win for the Wildcats.

The Kentucky coach turned out to be much more of a prophet than he ever wanted to be as the Bulldogs snapped UK's 21-game SEC winning streak.

Now he's warning that his No. 5 Wildcats can't overlook Mississippi (10-6, 2-3 SEC) here Wednesday night.

"I know Ole Miss is playing awfully well, winning their last two games and beating two quality teams (LSU and Alabama)," Smith said. "(Mississippi coach) Rod Barnes always does a great job with his team, and they always play hard. When you beat LSU and Alabama, those are two talented teams."

Like Georgia, Mississippi depends on veterans for leadership. Forward Justin Reed, named the SEC Player of the Week after scoring a career-high 28 points Saturday against Alabama, averages 18.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while shooting 49.6 percent from the field. Aaron Harper adds 15.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game and is a 37.6 percent shooter from 3-point range.


"They are two very versatile players," Smith said. "They can both go out on the perimeter and shoot outside, or they can score inside. They can do a lot of things and can pull our guys out, even though Chuck (Hayes) and Erik (Daniels) are similar in the way they play.

"Justin has always been one of my favorite players for the way he plays with passion and emotion, and he always plays hard. It will be a challenge for us to try and contain them."

The Rebels do not have any other player averaging more than 6.1 points per game. Kentucky has five players averaging 9.1 or more points per game.

"To beat this team, we have to have some other kids step up and have big nights, or career nights, for us," said Mississippi coach Rod Barnes.

Barnes does acknowledge that both Reed and Harper have dramatically improved since last season.

"Reed handles the ball more out on the floor and really worked on his shooting," Barnes said. "Harper really worked on putting the ball on the floor and is more effective now doing that. Our team is more patient in getting those guys opportunities.

"We need for both of those guys to be as good as anyone in our league for us to win."

Smith says his team can't view Mississippi as having only two players..

"I know they have two good players, but they have others to go with them," Smith said. "I've been impressed with their ball movement. That keeps more pressure on you than anything. They have other players that play well (besides Reed and Harper)."

Seven SEC teams have won on the road this season

Kentucky is 13-2 overall after Sunday's win at Notre Dame. However, both losses have been in Rupp Arena and seven SEC teams already have a road win this season.

Barnes was an assistant in 1998 when Mississippi won at Kentucky. The Cats went on to win the national title that year.

"We went into the game feeling like we had a good team and felt if we played well, this would be the year we could beat them," Barnes said. "It was a great feeling, but you don't win up there often."

"Beating people in their home venue is a real challenge, but it happens. A lot of it has to do with the balance in the league," Smith said. "When you are not on top of your game, anything can happen.

"We are coming off a good win on the road. But we hope there are things we can correct for this game."

Smith gave freshman forwards Bobby Perry and Sheray Thomas rare playing time in a marquee game Sunday. Smith hopes it will inspire them to perform even better in practice.

"It gives them confidence that the coach still believes in them," Smith said. "I was rewarding them for their hard work (in practice).

"In Bobby, we have a 6-7 athletic kid. He went baseline with a reverse layup (to score). Right now he's a tweener. He's not quite quick enough to guard the perimeter or strong enough to guard the post. But he's very skilled. Sheray is undersized as an inside player and is still learning to develop his perimeter skills so he can be like Chuck or Erik. You will see them getting more minutes because I have been impressed with how they have improved."

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