Friday, March 19, 1999

Miami has a plan for UK

RedHawks aim to stay in control

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Wally Szczerbiak stretches before Thursday's workout at the Trans World Dome.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        ST. LOUIS — Because it's March, and because it's Kentucky, no one is giving Miami much of a chance here when the RedHawks take on UK tonight in the Midwest Regional semifinals.

        The odds do look a bit overwhelming for the 10:15 matchup here at Trans World Dome. Consider:

        • The Wildcats are defending national champions and have won the title two of the last three years. Miami has never advanced to the third round before.

        • In the last three seasons, UK is 19-1 in NCAA Tournament play. Miami is 2-1.

        • UK holds the records for most NCAA Tournament appearances (40) and most tournament games won (83) and has won seven titles overall. Miami has an overall NCAA record of 6-17.

  • When: 10:20 p.m.
  • Favorite: Kentucky by 9 1/2.
  • Records: Miami 24-7, Kentucky 27-8.
  • Radio: WLW-AM (700)
  • TV: CBS
        The weight of that history prompted someone to ask Wally Szczerbiak if he had to play a “superhuman” game for Miami to have a chance.

        “I didn't have a superhuman effort against Utah, and we beat them,” Szczerbiak said. “They were the second seed in the regional. Kentucky's the third seed.”

        And consider this: Tennessee beat UK twice this year, and Miami, playing without its starting point guard, beat Tennessee.

  • Transition defense: Kentucky loves to run. Miami has put a lot of emphasis on getting back on defense.
  • Hit the glass: Guard the three-point line. UK is at its best when the threes are falling. Miami forced Utah into making only 2-of-13 threes in the second half.
  • Don't turn it over: Miami is 22-1 when committing fewer turnovers than its opponents. Miami turned it over only five times against Washington in the first round and six times against Utah in the second.

• Outmuscle Miami: If there's an area UK needs to exploit, it's size inside. UK has three players 6-foot-10 or taller; Miami has only one regular taller than 6-6 (the 6-8 Wally Szczerbiak).
  • Hit three-pointers: UK has made 45.7 percent of its threes in the postseason and subsequently won all five games.
  • Go deep: UK will play 10 players and Miami probably only seven or eight, so working the bench and pushing the tempo can only help the Wildcats.

        Kentucky does comes in playing its best basketball of the year, but UK coach Tubby Smith and the Wildcats know that his team can't mail it in and move to the Elite Eight.

        “Let's not underestimate the quality of play of Miami,” Smith said. “They've got a good all-around team, strong players, a well-respected coach. It should be a good game.”

        Said UK forward Heshimu Evans: “Miami's a great team. We're up for every game, no matter who we play. You know you can't get this far if you're not a great team.”

        And Szczerbiak isn't going to sneak up on anyone.

        “We've faced tough competition all year,” Smith said. “We've gone against (Maryland's) Steve Francis and (Auburn's) Chris Porter. They're pretty good players. ... But Szczerbiak is probably the toughest player we've faced all year.”

        All that said, the RedHawks are going to have to do a lot of things right to make it a game. Kentucky has the fire power to blow out Miami. MU coach Charlie Coles said his team can't let things get out of hand.

Scott Padgett signs autographs.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        Miami and UK match up pretty well as far as the starting five are concerned, but Kentucky plays 10 players. No one averages more than 30 minutes. Only one player — Scott Padgett — averages more than 25.

        For Miami, Szczerbiak and Damon Frierson average right around 37 minutes a game.

        The conventional wisdom is UK will wear down the RedHawks. Szczerbiak disagrees.

        “It's not like this is going to be the first time we play 40 minutes,” he said. “We play 40 minutes almost every night, and anyone who works out knows you reach a threshold.”

        Szczerbiak said sticking with the same five could even help Miami.

        “They use a platoon system,” he said. “They bring in five new guys at each TV timeout. Sometimes it's hard to get into rhythm that way.

        “If we can start hot, we might be able to use that to our advantage.”

        The other way UK can hurt the RedHawks is with the fast break.

        If the score is in the 80s or 90s, it probably will be a UK blowout.

        “They like to get you to play faster than you want to,” Coles said. “That's how they get those 12-2 and 16-4 runs. We can't let that happen.”

        That speaks to Miami's greater strategy.

        “Our strategy is simple: keep it close,” Coles said. “If we do that, we've got a chance.”

        Miami hasn't lost a game that's gone down to the last seconds all year. So if the clock gets to 2:00 and the RedHawks are within three or so, will Coles be happy?

        “Happy? I'll probably jump up and get a technical for hanging on the rim,” Coles said. “That would be real good.”        

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