Tuesday, March 09, 1999

UK cooks in tournaments

Right ingredients make Wildcats hard to beat

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        After losing to Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference Tournament finals Sunday, Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson brought two statistics to the postgame press conference:

        • His career record vs. Kentucky in the regular season: 5-3.

        • His record against the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament: 0-6.

        “What does that tell you?” he said. “You have to have the right components to be a good tournament team. And Kentucky always has the right compo nents.”

        How else to explain this decade? Since getting off postseason probation eight years ago, UK has been better in the postseason (51-6, .895) than in the regular season (193-36, .843).

        Some of it is coaching. Some is seasoning. Some, honestly, is boredom that vanishes only in March.

        “We just want to win champi onships,” UK senior Wayne Turner said. “This team finds a way to turn it up in the postseason.”

        But much of it is formulaic. Only the right ingredients make do in championship batter.

        “You have to have size, shooting and rebounding,” Richardson said. “You have to have people like Kentucky has.”

        Let's see how UK breaks down in the most critical categories:

        • Size/rebounding: You can't coach height, and UK is as blessed here as it ever has been with 6-foot-10 Jamaal Magloire, 6-10 Michael Bradley and 6-9 Scott Padgett.

        “We've got excellent size,” UK coach Tubby Smith said. “We've got big people who can rebound the ball.”

        UK outrebounds teams by an average of 6.1 per game, second-best in the SEC. Last year, it had a plus-8.2 average in winning the NCAA title.

        • Defense: Another untouchable trait. Last year, the Wildcats held opponents to 38.2-percent shooting, its best defensive season in 36 years. This year they're better, holding foes to 37.8 percent.

        Magloire, who averaged only 19.6 minutes in the regular season as the defensive half of a platoon, is more dangerous now that he is developing an offensive game to match. He averaged 10 points, 5.7 rebounds and 25.3 minutes in three SEC Tournament games last week end.

        “At this time of year, offenses are generally clicking, so you've got to be able to shut people down,” Smith said. “That's why we need Jamaal's defensive presence. When he's also putting the ball in the basket, that makes him even harder to stop.”

        • Shooting: UK's 47.6-percent shooting is tops in the SEC. Much of that is due to its reliance on high-percentage shots near the basket, as its percentages are .548 inside the three-point arc and an SEC-worst .322 behind it.

        Even the latter figure is firming up, though. The Wildcats shot 42.8 percent (24-of-56) on three-pointers in the SEC Tournament.

        • Experience: Padgett and Heshimu Evans are fifth-year seniors. Turner has played in three Final Fours and should set the NCAA mark for career games played Sunday. And much of this team's core contributed in the NCAA title season last year.

        “The biggest thing is Kentucky's experience,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “You can't put a price on that come tournament time. And their upperclassmen have brought along the younger guys quite well.”

        • Free-throw shooting: The biggest weakness. UK's 62.7-percent average ranks it 281st of the nation's 315 Division I teams. Smith got so frustrated watching his team mis fire Sunday, he kicked a courtside table.

        “We've been shooting fine in practice,” Turner said. “It's just a matter of staying relaxed in the games.”

        • Intangibles: Freshmen Desmond Allison, Tayshaun Prince and Souleymane Camara have played well in recent weeks. The seniors, all of whom have had subpar seasons, awoke last week.

        If recent history speaks for itself, UK's play last weekend should say more than its regular-season missteps.

        “They've got all the ingredients,” Donovan said. “I don't see why they won't compete for another championship.”


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