Cats ready for 'learning experience'

December 03, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - No one has to tell Bobby Perry what to expect when Kentucky plays at No. 9 North Carolina Saturday.

Perry, a North Carolina native, grew up watching North Carolina and Duke play. He knows how intimidating the Dean Dome can be for opposing teams when they visit North Carolina.

But he also believes Kentucky can win despite relying on four freshmen and transfer Patrick Sparks for significant contributions.

"I am just going to encourage all of them to play strong," said Perry, who had four points and seven rebounds in Tuesday's win over Tennessee Tech. "It can be a learning experience for the freshmen because they will be tested.

"You always want to win, and I believe we can win. But you can learn something from every game win or lose. Nobody plays without making mistakes. North Carolina is good. They are fast and like to push the ball much like we do. It will be a good test, but since we have beat them four straight years, I know their fans are really going to be ready for us."


North Carolina lost its season opener 77-66 at Santa Clara before going to the Maui Invitational and beating Brigham Young, Tennessee, and Iowa. Next came an impressive 97-65 win over Southern Cal.

The Tar Heels (5-1) are coming off a 70-63 win at Indiana on Wednesday when Rashad McCants score 19 points and point guard Raymond Felton 16. North Carolina, which played six games in 13 days, had scored 86 points or more in its previous four games before the Hoosiers limited them to 70.

"We watched them play in the Maui Invitational against USC," Kentucky senior Josh Carrier said. "They're pretty deep. They've got a lot of good players this year. Last year they only played six or seven players, now they can play nine or 10 players, and all of them are athletes. They can run and gun constantly. We've got to get back on defense."

"They are going to put points on the board. Their whole starting five can go for 20 points or more," Kentucky's Chuck Hayes said.

Many feel Tar Heels have best starting five

For the second straight season, many basketball analysts feel North Carolina's starting team is the best in the nation. Felton is rated among the nation's top five point guards and is on the watch lists for most major postseason awards along with McCants, a preseason All-American.

Sean May and Jawaad Williams, who has 65 double-figure scoring games, are both all-conference caliber players and May is also on several award watch lists. Marvin Williams, the preseason choice for Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year, has to come off the bench.

"Saturday will be difficult for Kentucky," Mike Sutton, Tennessee Tech's head coach and former UK assistant, said. "North Carolina is always good. They are experienced. They have Marvin Williams coming off bench and that's pretty strong. They have a guy at every position who is experienced and that will be a big challenge, but it will also be a great opportunity for Tubby's team because they are pretty good, too."

Rebounding could be a key for Kentucky. May, the son of former Indiana All-American Scott May, was booed Wednesday at Indiana and struggled with his play. However, he's a rugged inside player and combines with Marvin Williams to give the Tar Heels a big presence inside to test UK freshmen center Randolph Morris.

Smith did not play sophomore center Shagari Alleyne against Tennessee Tech for disciplinary reasons. Lukasz Obrzut, UK's other center, had three fouls in 10 minutes. Morris had 10 points, but only two rebounds in 23 minutes.

"I don't know what was wrong with Woo," Smith said. "He seems to be a magnet for fouls. He's got to play without fouling.

"We have to be better on the boards. Chuck has done a good job, but we've got to give him more help."

First true road game

This will be Kentucky's first true road game as well as UK's first nationally televised game.

"I think we are experienced enough to win," Kelenna Azubuike, UK's leading scorer, said. "The young guys are going to have to get used to playing in hostile environments. I think they are mature enough to handle it.

"Their crowd will be loud. They get a lot of energy off their crowd. My freshman year, it was really a fun game and I remember really being hyped up to play there."

Perry knows he will be as he'll have several family members and friends at the game. He says he doesn't plan any "win one for Bobby" speeches before the game. However, he does expect Kentucky to continue its mastery of the Tar Heels.

"We expect to win every game," Perry said. "Our freshmen are going to learn how serious college basketball really is in this game and how tough it is to be successful. But Kentucky has shown it can win at North Carolina before and if we play the way we can, we can do it again."

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