Smith has no problems with UK's schedule

December 29, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Despite a two-point win over Louisville on Dec. 18, No. 8 Kentucky has still won its last four games by an average margin of 23.3 points per game.

The Wildcats easily outclassed Morehead State and William & Mary. They didn't have a lot more trouble beating Indiana.

Kentucky (8-1) figures to get another easy win tonight when it plays Campbell (2-6), a team playing its seventh straight road game. The Fighting Camels, who have lost 38 of their last 39 road games, lost by 55 points at North Carolina State and 41 at Tennessee. One of their two wins was a 75-62 win over William & Mary, which lost 92-47 at UK last week.

However, don't think the one-sided wins and relatively easy schedule are causing UK coach Tubby Smith to second guess the competition his team has faced.

"Connecticut won it all last year. Look at their schedule last December," Smith said. "Look at Duke's schedule. I don't think they left (the state of) North Carolina until Jan. 12 last year. Kansas is playing their first away game against us (on Jan. 9).


"What good does it do? I mean, it's good that you're playing somebody and you're learning and you're improving, but how is it going to make you better in March, unless you're winning?"

Smith noted how Michigan State played a murderous non-conference schedule last year and lost most of the games.

"You've got to be playing right at the right time of the year," Smith said.

Strong non-conference schedule not as important

He says the importance of playing a strong non-conference schedule has become less important now that the NCAA Tournament has more balanced brackets than it did years ago when teams were kept in their geographic area. He says expanded conferences that require teams to play more conference games as well as conference tournaments have cut into the need to play overly strong preseason schedules.

"You can't play everybody in the top 20," Smith said.

Smith says made-for-TV matchups are also not as important now.

"Everybody is on TV," he said. "Our league has a contract where every team is on TV so many times. I'm not sure that (recruiting exposure) is that important now because TV is so saturated with games."

That doesn't mean Smith is taking a win tonight for granted.

"Coach never underestimates a team," Kentucky sophomore center Shagari Alleyne, who has 19 blocked shots in the last five games, said. "He's always hard on us whether it is William & Mary or it is Kansas. He is real intense every game and keeps us focused and humble to work on the task at hand rather than look ahead to other teams."

"It doesn't matter who you play," UK sophomore Bobby Perry said. "You try to improve yourself. It doesn't matter if it is a Division II team or top Division I team. We are just trying to get better for ourselves in any way we can."

Still, Smith didn't deny that his team should win tonight even after taking a four-day holiday break.

"It's not like these are not Division I teams," Smith said. "No matter who you are playing, you want your team to compete and give its best effort. That's tough for a young team to learn. They are very up and down and erratic.

"The team is not serious-minded yet. The young players are not quite serious enough about basketball. This will be a good time for them to learn to play the right way."

Still teaching team "nuances and adjustments"

Smith said he's still spending time teaching his young team the "nuances and adjustments" they have to make when the first option on a play does not produce the desired shot.

"Conference teams are going to take away your first options. Then you have to recognize the next options and adjust," Smith said.

He also wants to see improved rebounding tonight. He's been stressing rebounding in practice and putting the Cats through extra drills.

"It's effort more than technique," Smith said. "Rebounding is all about desire and toughness. There are some things we are trying to do to make players tougher. We are having more contact and make practices more competitive."

Alleyne knows what will happen in the Wildcats don't play a solid 40 minutes against Campbell.

"Coach Smith will chew us out," Alleyne said. "As a team, we will get it and then he'll go individual by individual and express his disgust. He'll yell. Knowing all that makes it a lot easier to make sure we are ready to play in this game."

"We've just got to be smart, do the right things and execute every play," Perry said. "Anything less than that against any team, then coach Smith is not going to be happy."

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