Vaught's Views: UK has a 3-headed center

November 24, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

CINCINNATI - Finding a true center in college basketball is becoming more and more rare. Even tall players prefer to be known as power forwards and almost every player, regardless of size, wants to be known as someone who can run the court and shoot the outside jump shot.

Not only does Kentucky have a center this year, but it's looking more and more like the Wildcats truly have a three-headed center to throw at opponents in Shagari Alleyne, Randolph Morris and Lukasz Obrzut.

"The three we have, they are all true centers," said Kentucky coach Dave Hobbs. "I doubt Tubby (Smith) has ever had a team with three true big guys. What we have to do now is look at the totality we can get out of that position."

Kentucky got plenty out of that spot here Tuesday night in its 73-53 win over Ball State.

The most noticeable was Alleyne, a 7-3 sophomore who played little last year. In this game, his dunks helped spark a second-half rally that broke a 27-27 halftime deficit. Alleyne had a career-high 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting - which isn't that hard when you are throwing the ball down at the basket - and three rebounds in 11 minutes. However, eight of his points came during an eight-minute stint in the second half.


"He had a little bit of an impact," Ball State coach Tim Buckley said. "He's a presence. He gets you thinking offensively. We played too fast, made turnovers and took tough shots when he was in the game. He changed the game."

That's because he got out and ran the court well after the Cats forced turnovers or missed shots. His first two dunks came on the fast break, the third one after Chuck Hayes grabbed one of his 11 rebounds and lobbed a high pass that no one but Alleyne could have grabbed.

"At 7-3, no one can get to him," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "That's a pass he can handle and no one else can."

Morris, a freshman, had 10 points, five rebounds and one blocked shot in 19 minutes. He started the game calling for the ball inside on UK's first possession. He hit a spinning shot on the left side of the lane. He yanked an offensive rebound away from a Ball State defender. He even tried to take a charge at midcourt when the Cats pressed.

More importantly, he learned from a mistake early in the game when he allowed Ball State an open 3-point shot because he did not help a teammate who was screened.

"We had to ask our big guys to move and switch because of the way they were playing us," Hobbs said. "All of them did it. It was really a subtle switch that he picked up, but that shows he's listening to what we tell him and learning."

Obrzut was the odd man out. He played just seven minutes and failed to score or grab a rebound. But he's getting better and seems more at ease in UK's system.

"Woo still has to work on his understanding of the game," Smith said. "He's as versatile a 7-2 guy as you will find. He has a lot of raw talent. We just have to harness that and get him to learn a few more things."

A nice problem

What a nice problem to have. Smith can go with the talented Morris, a freshman who figures to only get better and better with experience. He can go with Alleyne, who is playing with more confidence than he ever did last year and has shown he can be a dominant presence on either end of the court. Or he can go with Obrzut, the most physical of the three and the best outside shooter.

"The good thing is that they are all going to get the opportunity in games," Hobbs said. "It just depends on matchups and who is doing the job the best on a given night."

Against Ball State, UK needed an infusion of energy and Alleyne provided it with his best eight-minute stint since he arrived at Kentucky as a raw freshman with a tall frame but little strength and confidence.

"I think he just appreciates the opportunity to play in games now," Hobbs said.

Friday against Georgia State, it could be Morris or Obrzut that provides the needed lift. Or it could be all three. That's the luxury Kentucky is going to have this season that most teams won't.

The Cats got their usual double-double from Hayes (10 points, 11 rebounds). They got what could be the start of big scoring games from guard Patrick Sparks (20 points on 7-for-10 shooting).

Kentucky had some weaknesses exposed by a more intense Ball State for the game's first 25 minutes and should learn from what happened.

But the biggest lesson learned in this annual trip to Cincinnati should be that the Cats not only have a post presence again, but that they have three true centers capable of finding ways to help the team win.

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