Saturday, February 06, 1999

UK catching 'Bama down

The Associated Press

        MONTGOMERY, Ala. — What Alabama needs no fiery locker room oration can provide.

        “We've got to step up and play with some confidence and shoot the basketball with confidence,” Crimson Tide coach Mark Gottfried said. “I don't necessarily know if that comes from a "win one for the Gipper' speech.”

        Alabama (12-11, 2-8 Southeastern Conference) heads into this afternoon's game with No.5 Kentucky (19-5, 8-2) having lost nine of its last 11 games and four in a row.

        One Tide player who has never had problems shooting with confidence — leading scorer Brian Williams — is hobbled by a nagging ankle injury. Williams is doubtful for today's game, with Doc Martin expected to start in his place.

        Plus, the Wildcats, coming off a 75-68 loss at Florida Thursday night, arrive in a nasty mood. The defeat snapped a 15-game SEC road winning streak, but Kentucky has won 10 straight in Tuscaloosa dating to the 1991 season.

        “We all know you're talking about one of the top teams in the country,” Gottfried said. “I'm sure that they'll be ready to play.”

        The Wildcats have struggled to find the same chemistry that carried them to the national championship last season. Coach Tubby Smith has shuffled the lineup trying to find the right combination.

        “When you lose players like Jeff Shepard and have Cameron Mills and Allen Edwards leave, it can be a challenge finding the right combination, especially at shooting guard,” Smith said.

        With Williams hobbled, Gottfried has an even tougher puzzle to put together. The senior guard is averaging 15.4 points and has made 42 of Alabama's 79 three-pointers this year despite being hobbled by an injury suffered against Auburn two weeks ago.

        “We may be at the point where we need to move on and prepare and mentally get to the point where we're not going to have him for a while,” Gottfried said. “We've kind of been in limbo here for two weeks trying to play through (the injury). We're probably to the point where we need to either get him ready to play or hold him out.”

        Alabama ranks 11th in the league in three-point shooting (30.6 percent). Kentucky tops that by only a whisker, at 30.7 percent, but has attempted 172 more from long range.

        Smith and Gottfried, who coached at Murray State in Kentucky last year, are familiar with each other.

        Smith watched Gottfried take the Racers to a 29-4 mark last season and an NCAA Tournament berth.

        “I was very impressed,” Smith said. “I know it was probably the winningest team from the state of Kentucky (in the regular season).”

        Gottfried, meanwhile, watched Smith more than win over the skeptical Wildcat fans.

        “I was in the state last year when fans thought he was the wrong coach and then when he convinced them he was the right choice,” Gottfried said. “He's been spectacular, he's done an unbelievable job.”

        • When: 3 p.m. today

        • Where: Coleman Coliseum (15,043), Tuscaloosa, Ala.

        • Records: UK 19-5 (8-2 SEC); Alabama 12-11 (2-8)

        • TV: Ch. 64

        • Radio: WSAI-AM (1530); WNKR-FM (106.5)


        • 10: Consecutive victories in this series by UK

        • .439: Three-point percentage allowed by UK in its last two road games (9-of-21 by Georgia, 9-of-20 by Florida)

        • .276: Three-point shooting by Alabama in its 10 conference games


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