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Wildcats want to run more

January 28, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON -- Kentucky would like to get its "running game" going against Mississippi here tonight, but Tubby Smith knows that's easier said than done.

"We would like to establish our running game. That seems to be the best part of our game right now," said the Kentucky coach.

The problem is that Mississippi might be the most physical team the Cats have played, including Georgia, the team that won at Rupp Arena to end UK's 21-game Southeastern Conference win streak earlier this month.

"They just play an aggressive, man-to-man style. They don't let the ball enter the middle," Smith said. "You've got to cut and screen to get open. They are aggressive giving help inside, and they deny when you try to throw the ball back out."

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On the offensive end, the Rebels (10-6, 2-3 SEC) try to get the ball to Justin Reed and Aaron Harper, their two top scorers.

"It's difficult to force the tempo because they move the ball and take their time," Smith said. "They are the best screening team we will play all year. They really take care of the ball. You are not going to force them into a lot of mistakes."

Georgia used the same aggressive defense and more cautious offense to stun the Cats 65-57 Jan. 17. However, Ole Miss has lost six of its last seven games against Kentucky.

"Our kids have played well over the last week and we've gained confidence," Mississippi coach Rod Barnes said. "We have more confidence than we have had all year because of our last two wins.

"We are not going to change the way we play, especially on defense. We are aggressive. That's the way we play. It will be tough to win, but it's much better going there after two wins than two losses. Anything can happen on a given night. We will take the approach that this can be the night."

Barnes thinks he has some "good matchups"

Barnes even thinks he has some "good matchups" against No. 5 Kentucky (13-2, 3-1). While he respects the way Kentucky's Erik Daniels and Chuck Hayes play, Barnes is just as glad not to see a player like Jamaal Magloire, Nazr Mohammed or Marquis Estill playing center for the Wildcats this season.

"We did not have a matchup for them," Barnes said. "Those guys (Hayes and Daniels) are as effective, but we are not looking at a guy three inches taller than our post players. Our matchups are pretty even as far as size. We have a chance to compete with them in that regard."

Daniels understands Barnes' logic, but he's also hopes the Rebels do believe they have an edge on UK in the middle.

"We don't have a big guy down there. Many teams have underestimated what we can do," Daniels said. "We will just take it to them like we have all year. We want them to underestimate us. That way we can catch them by surprise and do some damage."

Smith doesn't think Mississippi will catch his team by surprise. The Rebels give up just 61.4 points per game and have held five opponents under 50 points this season.

"I don't think we took Georgia lightly," Smith said. "They just played good and we didn't play very good that day. If you allow people to dictate the tempo and their style of play on you, then you will not attack. You'll be hesitant. That's what can happen."

Kentucky has not had that problem in any game except Georgia. The Cats have had double-digit leads in every other game, including their loss to Louisville.

"We've been successful getting a big early lead," UK sophomore Kelenna Azubuike said. "But if that doesn't happen, we have to learn to come back and finish the job."

Numbers: Tonight will be UK's 400th game in Rupp Arena and the Cats will be looking for their 800th SEC win. ... Guard Gerald Fitch, UK's leading scorer, will make his 100th career start tonight. ... Hayes will start his 60th straight game, the longest streak of any current UK player. ... Kentucky is 12-0 when scoring 60 or more points. ... UK has held all 15 opponents this year under 50 percent shooting.



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