Cats looking for better play against Indiana

December 10, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Forget the coaching adage about taking one game at a time.

At least, that is what Kentucky senior Chuck Hayes says going into UK's game Saturday in Louisville against Indiana.

"This is the big stage, the spotlight," Hayes said. "Just having experienced the big game hype at North Carolina should help us, but this is a huge game. It's a game we need to win for a lot of reasons."

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said his team "failed" its first big test last week when it fell behind early and lost at North Carolina.

"I thought we got that game behind us Monday. If we had played Monday, somebody would have been in trouble," Smith said.


Instead, Kentucky came out sluggish against Morehead State Wednesday and needed a 20-0 spurt to start the second half to pull away for a 71-40 win.

Indiana lost 70-63 at home to North Carolina and 74-69 at Connecticut before struggling even more offensively in a 55-45 home loss to Notre Dame Wednesday.

"We just are not making shots," Indiana coach Mike Davis said Thursday. "We are getting enough looks to win. If we hold Carolina to 70, we should have a chance to win. Same with UConn. And 55 at home should be enough to overcome. We are missing open shots. I'm not sure why we are not making them, but we are not."

Indiana is shooting only 34.8 percent from the field, including 29.4 percent from 3-point range. Now the Hoosiers face a Kentucky team that held Morehead to 27 percent shooting and has held 38 straight opponents under 50 percent shooting from the field.

"Facing a team with Kentucky's reputation of being an outstanding defensive team, we've got to make shots," Davis said.

Guards lead IU's offense

Guards Bracey Wright, a junior, and Marshall Strickland, a senior, are the players Indiana was counting on to lead its offense. Wright averages 15.2 points per game, but is shooting just 38 percent from the field and 50 percent at the foul line. Strickland is scoring 9.8 points per game, but hitting only 35 percent from the field.

Davis says it's no secret that the two players need to play well for the Hoosiers (2-3) to win.

"We really were in the same position last year," Davis said. "Bracey has to make shots for us to win. Our young guys are good, but if Bracey doesn't score for us, if Marshall doesn't score for us, we have trouble. We need one of those guys to score for us to win.

"That's what your best players are supposed to do. That's not to put any pressure on them. That's just facts."

Kentucky's leader, Hayes, has also struggled offensively. He had 10 points and 10 rebounds against Morehead, his fourth double-double of the year, but was just 4-for-12 from the field. Still, Davis appreciates what Hayes does for the Wildcats.

"Hayes is one of the best in the country," Davis said. "He is outstanding on the defensive end. He is the heartbeat of their team."

The future, though, revolves around talented freshmen Randolph Morris, Rajon Rondo, Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford. Smith questioned the way Bradley and Crawford were playing with teammates before the Morehead game, and Morehead coach Kyle Macy criticized the Cats for their overall lack of team play after Wednesday's game.

"Their freshmen are outstanding," Davis said. "They do not play like freshmen. Coach Smith has got Morris playing really aggressive. He has come a long way from high school to now. Bradley and the other guards are really aggressive. They are all good players, really good players."

Solid play from Alleyne

Kentucky also continues to get solid play from reserve center Shagari Alleyne. He had 11 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots - all career highs - against Morehead.

"He's really coming on," Smith said. "He's getting more and more confident. I'm really impressed with how he has improved."

Indiana has to improve to beat No. 10 Kentucky. The Wildcats have won four straight against Davis' team, including last year's 80-41 victory in Indianapolis. Davis said last year's loss had not crossed his mind until he started preparing for Saturday's game.

"That game was over with from the start to be honest," Davis said. "We never showed up to play that game."

Davis said his team should be as "embarrassed" by Wednesday's home loss to Notre Dame as it was by last year's loss to Kentucky.

"I don't think anything really embarrasses these young guys," Davis said.

The coach imploded in a loss to Kentucky at Freedom Hall two years ago when he charged on the court to argue with officials over a foul that was not called late in a 70-64 loss. He insists this game is no more emotional than others for him.

"When you don't win and feel like you will never beat them, you just have to focus on what is important to get better as a basketball team," Davis said.

Smith says his team can't overlook Indiana.

"Indiana is playing hard, aggressive basketball," Smith said. "They have played more tough games than we have. That type of fire has probably sharpened them more than we have been."

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