'Different' UK still worries Tide coach

February 10, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Alabama coach Mark Gottfried still marvels not only that Kentucky went unbeaten in Southeastern Conference play, but also at the way the Wildcats dismantled so many opponents during their streak.

"I don't know that I've ever seen anybody have a stretch like that that was so strong," said Gottfried.

Tonight his team comes to Rupp Arena to face No. 8 Kentucky. The Cats have not been as dominant this year, but they are still 16-3 overall and leading the SEC Eastern Division with a 6-2 mark.

"When you look at what they've done this year, the schedule that they have played outside the league and then how they've done in the conference, it's obviously very impressive," Gottfried said.

"Their team is a different team this year. I think they're still a great team. They believe they are going to win every night. I don't think there's any questioning that whether it's close or whether it's by a big margin."


Kentucky coach Tubby Smith admitted Tuesday that his team had been "pretty fortunate" in close games this year. The Wildcats beat South Carolina 65-64 Saturday.

Four of their SEC wins have been by a combined total of just six points. UK's biggest SEC win was a 12-point home victory over Vanderbilt.

"Experience really helps us late in games," Smith said. "Sometimes we try to do things too quick or fast, but usually we don't get in a real rush. We talk about playing to win games and we don't put the pressure only on one person. We never do anything we don't practice. We don't draw up new plays. There's no magic wand. There's nothing to sprinkle on them."

Alabama's luck has been the opposite. The Crimson Tide (11-8, 3-5 SEC) lost twice to LSU by a combined 10 points. They had the lead at South Carolina before the Gamecocks hit a 3-point shot to force overtime and then beat the Tide.

"As I've said this earlier in the year: We're not very good," Gottfried said. "We've never pretended to be, but we have a great group of guys who have played their absolute tails off every night. I don't think anything will change from here on out."

"They could have a lot better record than they do now," said UK's Erik Daniels, who was named SEC Player of the Week after averaging 19.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in two wins last week. "We know they are a good team."

Shelton is back from knee injury

So does Smith, especially since junior Earnest Shelton has returned from his knee injury. He had a game-high 23 points in the overtime loss at South Carolina on Wednesday.

"But they also have a lot of weapons to go with him," Smith said.

Point guard Antoine Pettway had 25 points against Mississippi. Swingman Kennedy Winston had 25 against Florida and is averaging 22.7 points per game in Alabama's last three outings.

"They do a lot of things well," Smith said. "Winston Kennedy can do so many things. He's versatile and is a great one-on-one player. He can be creative. Pettway can really push the ball."

Smith said Pettway will push the ball much like Vanderbilt's Mario Moore and North Carolina's Ray Felton, who both got to the basket way too often against UK in Smith's opinion.

"He's a guy that reminds me of myself. He's a little pesky, feisty guy," Hawkins said of Pettway. "You just want him to get away from you. I don't like facing a guy smaller than me, and he is probably faster than me. He's really quick and really gets their team wound up emotionally. He's a big part of their team.

"I know if I do a great job on him, our team has a great chance to win. If I don't, then we could be in trouble."

Kentucky will again be without senior guard Gerald Fitch, who will miss his second straight game because of a tendon injury on his shooting hand. Smith would not speculate on when he would return.

That means senior Antwain Barbour, who had 10 points against South Carolina in his first start of the season, likely will be back in the opening lineup tonight.

"Obviously, he is not shooting as well as we would like," Smith said of Barbour's 3-for-9 performance against South Carolina. "I thought a couple of shots he might have used a shot fake and drove to the basket.

"Defensively, he has to be disciplined. He has to be in the right spot in our system to make the team play. That's what he has to get better at."

Alabama has beaten UK two of the last three years and three times in the last five meetings. That includes a 64-61 win in Rupp Arena two years ago.

"I don't think we are going to be intimidated," Shelton said. "They are a different team this year. They don't have the same five players as last year.

"I think it will be fun playing at Kentucky. There is not a monster team in the league this year. On any given night, Kentucky can be beat."

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