Wednesday, March 17, 1999

UK plans to gang up on Szczerbiak

Louisville Courier-Journal

        LEXINGTON, Ky. — Tubby Smith says it's not by design, but the Kentucky basketball coach has developed an intimidating way to showcase the Wildcats' depth.

        During Kentucky's five postseason games, it has become his habit to replace his starters with five new players just four or five minutes into the game. The results haven't always been startling, but the starters say the move has helped keep them fresher later on, and the subs say it's a way for them to make their mark.

        And for Miami coach Charlie Coles, it's just one more example of the superior depth the RedHawks will encounter Friday night, during the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament Midwest Region in St. Louis.

        Three Miami starters aver age more than 33 minutes a game. Stars Wally Szczerbiak and Damon Frierson rarely leave the court, averaging 37.5 and 36.9 minutes a game, respectively.

        Kentucky's top starters, meanwhile, average 28 and 29 minutes a game.

        Miami's bench goes two and sometimes three deep. Smith subs en masse.

        Asked Tuesday the strategy he will employ against Szczerbiak, who averages 24.3 points a game, Smith said he'll probably let several Cats take turns guarding him.

        “We try to wear people down with our bench strength and up-tempo style of play,” he said. “Hopefully that'll have an effect on everybody, not just him.”

        Asked how he plans to overcome Kentucky's depth, Coles said: “I don't know how to counteract that. My assistants are always on me about giving Wally and Damon a rest, but I never consider that... I want to find a way to give them a rest Friday. That's the right thing to do.

        “It's what the humane society would want me to do, because I'm running their legs off. I don't know if I can... but we might have to do something, because they're relentless with the depth.”

        Smith said intimidation is not the motivation behind his platoon system. He said he's just looking for an edge, especially after the initial burst of adrenaline wears off and the opposing players might be looking for a breather.

        “I feel like it's a good time to try and press people and push the ball more and make them work a little bit harder, hoping we can fatigue them a little more, then bring that first unit back in,” Smith said.

        Smith has used seven start ing lineups this season, but during the past 15 games, he's used Michael Bradley, Scott Padgett, Heshimu Evans, Wayne Turner and Desmond Allison.

        Usually at the first TV timeout, regardless of what's transpired, Smith sends in Jamaal Magloire, Tayshaun Prince, Jules Camara, Saul Smith and Ryan Hogan.

        During Kentucky's 82-60 first-round victory over New Mexico State, that quintet cut an 11-5 deficit to 16-14. In Sunday's 92-88 overtime win against Kansas in the second round, the reserves entered with Kentucky down 10-5 and left with the Cats trailing 18-15.

        “What we've been able to do is wear teams down with that unit,” Padgett said. “I don't think it shows so much in the first half, but it does show in the second half. ... We're fresher in the second half.”

        Padgett said he wasn't a big fan of the system at first.

        “But now we know that's just how he likes to sub; that's how he wants to wear people down,” Padgett said.

        It's also a reward, Tubby Smith said.

        “Those guys deserve playing time is what it boils down to,” he said.

        “It's an added weapon,” said Saul Smith. “It's a positive because it tires out the opponent, and it's kind of a psychological advantage because all five of our players on the second team like to get out and run. It's definitely a shock to the other team.”

        The Cats want to speed up the game and wear down Szczerbiak and Frierson with their depth and size.

        Szczerbiak said Miami wants a slower pace.

        “Some of our players play quite a few minutes,” he said. “If we do that (slow the game down), we feel like we match up with them well as long as we're fresh.”

        ESPN analyst Dick Vitale, who picked Kentucky to win the Midwest on Selection Sunday, raved Tuesday about Szczerbiak, who scored a total of 67 points in victories over Washington and Utah.

        And Vitale gushed about the job Coles has done, coaching Miami to its first Sweet 16 appearance.

        But, he said, “I think Kentucky's depth will be the difference.”


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- UK plans to gang up on Szczerbiak