Cats ready for Rattlers' confidence

March 19, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Confidence could be the key word going into tonight's NCAA Tournament game between Kentucky and Florida A&M.

Kentucky is the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney. Florida A&M has a losing record (15-16), had to beat Lehigh in the play-in game Tuesday to even make the first round and knows that a No. 16 seed has never won a NCAA game.

"We have a chance because we shoot the ball well enough and I think we can defend," Florida A&M coach Mike Gillespie said. "I believe we can win. They (Florida A&M's players) believe we can win. If they did not believe that, I would not be doing my job.

"I am not saying we can match them shot for shot and run up and down the court with them. We've got to do some things different. But we believe we can win."


The Rattlers insist they will not be intimidated by UK's record, ranking or tradition.

"Everybody can believe what they want," said Florida A&M point guard Moses White. "What we believe as a team is what counts. We're not going to be intimidated. We think we can win."

Kentucky's players understand that confidence from the underdog Rattlers, who had to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament.

"We always get everybody's best game," Kentucky senior Antwain Barbour said. "We are used to that and expect that. If I played for them, I would be saying the same type things. I might be overconfident.

"That's how you've got to be if you are them. You have to believe you can win. If they didn't feel that way, I would be worried."

However, the Wildcats (26-4) insist they will not overlook Florida A&M in tonight's game, which will determine who advances to Sunday's second-round game against the winner of tonight's game between Alabama-Birmingham and Washington.

"I think we are ready to play," Kentucky sophomore Kelenna Azubuike said. "We've got a lot of confidence of our own, but we also know to treat every opponent with respect. We are confident in the way we have been playing. We've got confidence we can beat anybody we play."

Woods leads the nation with 134 3-pointers

Kentucky knows it has to contain Florida A&M senior guard Terrence Woods, who was 1-3 against the Wildcats during his two seasons with Tennessee before he transferred. He led the nation with 139 3-pointers last year and has 134 this year, again the best total in the nation.

Woods shoots 40 percent from 3-point range, and both Gillespie and Kentucky coach Tubby Smith agreed that he is the nation's best shooter.

"We have drills where we shoot 100 3s, and he makes 90, 92 or 93," Gillespie said.

"I think he's better than the best. That's why I have not slept well the last two nights," Smith said. "He gets his shot off quickly and he has great form. That's why he's so consistent."

Gillespie expects Kentucky to concentrate its defense on Woods. So does Woods, based on his memories of playing against Smith's teams.

"They play a smothering defense. They grind it out every play on defense," Woods said.

The Rattlers are not coming into the game fully healthy. White, the backup point guard, has suffered a concussion and become dehydrated in the last week. Woods and starting point guard Tony Tate both have been slowed by leg injuries.

"We don't have a third point guard," Gillespie said. "We will be in a world of trouble if those guys can't play."

Rattlers' defense has improved dramatically

Florida A&M has improved its defense dramatically during its season-best four-game winning streak. The Rattlers held opponents to 34 percent shooting in the MEAC tournament and limited Lehigh to 29 percent shooting Tuesday.

The coach also hopes playing games at North Carolina State, Georgia, Florida, Marquette, Cincinnati and Xavier the last two years will help his team.

"We know what to expect against a good team," Gillespie said.

The coach's family knows about success. Gillespie's daughter, Kristen, started at point guard on North Carolina State's Women's Final Four team a few years ago. His 78-year-old father still coaches baseball for Ripon College in Wisconsin and has over 1,800 wins.

Gillespie hopes his team has one other edge.

"Our band is coming and brings a lot of enthusiasm and a new flavor to the game," Gillespie said. "We need all the help we can get, too."

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