Sunday, March 12, 2000

Was UK rusty, sleepy or cocky?

Whatever it was, it cost Wildcats

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ATLANTA — Tubby Smith called his Kentucky team rusty. Saul Smith said the Wildcats were sleepy. J.P. Blevins thought they could have been cocky.

        Explanations or excuses, all could have contributed to UK's 14-point upset loss to Arkansas late Friday night. Whatever the reasons, the defeat deflated hopes of a high seeding in the NCAA Tournament draw, which will be announced this evening.

        “The best teams will have games like this,” UK senior center Jamaal Magloire said after the loss Friday. “We've just got to get ready for the NCAA Tournament and get back on track.”

        After spending most of the season at No. 2 in the Ratings Percentage Index, UK is now third behind Cincinnati and Arizona. Its high RPI standing is a misnomer, as the Wildcats (22-9) have more losses at this stage of the season than in any year since 1990.

        USA Today and the Web site both project UK as a No. 4 seed. The last time UK wasn't a third seed or better was in 1991, when probation prevented it from playing in the postseason. The last time it reached the NCAAs and was seeded lower than third was 1987, when it drew a No. 8 seed.

        In UK's favor: A schedule rated the toughest by the RPI, six victories against ranked teams and a 3-3 mark against the Top 10. Working against it: an 8-9 record away from Rupp Arena and an uninspiring 5-4 mark down the stretch.

        UK's loss Friday would stand out, except for the fact No. 1 Cincinnati, No. 2 Stanford, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 8 Tennessee, No. 10 Louisiana State, No. 11 Florida and No. 12 Syracuse have all lost in recent days.

        “March Madness is what it's all about,” Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson said Friday night. “Kentucky's gone, Florida's gone, Tennessee's gone.”

        The fourth, LSU, lost Saturday. But it was the first two upsets that might have put UK at ease, eyeing a big weekend.

        “I didn't think we were looking ahead,” Blevins said. “But you see Florida lose, you see Tennessee lose, and it's hard not to think about the draw being thinned out.”

        Tubby Smith thought the 10:15 p.m. tipoff, after a long day of sitting and waiting, might have hurt.

        “I thought I saw some rust in us,” he said. “We turned the ball over and did things uncharacteristic of our team.”

        UK's season-high 27 turnovers and season-low total of one steal were shocking. Arkansas' six turnovers were as few as UK had forced all season.

        Smith's son, Saul, still came under scrutiny. He made just 1-of-4 shots, totaled a career-high seven turnovers and fouled out in just 17 minutes.

        “It looked like we were still asleep from all of our naps today,” he said after the loss. “I know I slept (too long) today, and that's my fault.”

        UK never woke up.

        “I know we haven't lost our confidence,” Tubby Smith said. “We just weren't the better team tonight.”


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