Vaught's Views: Smith understands team's focus on San Antonio

March 16, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - It would have been fine with Tubby Smith if his players had wanted to cut down the nets in the Georgia Dome after Kentucky won the Southeastern Conference Tournament title game Sunday.

Smith understood that youngsters like to celebrate. He understood that winning the SEC Tournament was a major accomplishment for his team, which finished one game behind Mississippi State in the regular-season title race.

However, he also understood why his veteran team chose to leave the nets hanging.

"Our players just didn't want to cut the nets down," Smith said. "They are very focused on going as far as they can go and cutting down the nets in San Antonio."

That would be in San Antonio after the national title game on April 5. Smith's players want to cut those nets in the Alamodome just like the Wildcats did in 1998 when they won a national crown in Smith's first year as UK's head coach.


Of course, 64 other teams have the same dream going into this year's NCAA Tournament.

That includes Florida A&M, which faces Lehigh tonight in Dayton, Ohio, in the play-in game to determine which team will play Kentucky, the NCAA Tournament's top seed, in Columbus Friday.

"Are we as good as Kentucky? Realistically, no," Florida A&M coach Mike Gillespie said. "If we can cut through all the baloney sausage, we're not good enough to win, but we have to go in there with the attitude that we could pull off the greatest upset in college basketball. That's how we would approach if we would win (over Lehigh)."

Florida A&M, UK have the same dream

Never mind that Florida A&M has a losing record or that no 16th-seeded team has ever won a NCAA game against a No. 1 seed. Florida A&M has its dream just like the Wildcats have their dream.

"Our goal is to win the national championship," Kentucky senior guard Cliff Hawkins said. "That has not changed from day one this year. That's what we want."

Smith knew that kept his team from seriously celebrating Sunday's win. Other teams across the country cut down nets and jumped for joy when they won conference tournament championships. But not Kentucky.

"Our players are very focused on going as far as they can go and cutting down the nets in San Antonio," Smith said. "I told them they could celebrate along the way, but our seniors were adamant about not doing that.

"The younger players feed off the older players. If they don't see them jumping up and down, they are not going to be excited. This group has won three of these SEC Tournaments, so they were not overly excited because they have a bigger prize in mind."

So does Smith. However, he doesn't want his seniors to forget they have already won 104 games and been part of four successful years. As much as he hopes they do win the national title, he wants them not to feel overly pressured going into NCAA play.

"These young men have had goals since they arrived here, especially our seniors," Smith said. "They want to leave a legacy and they are working hard to go as far as they can and play as well as they can. If they do that, they will have been successful in my eyes and will have reason to celebrate."

Central Kentucky News Articles