Saturday, March 18, 2000

UK underdog against Syracuse

Strange season takes another twist

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CLEVELAND — Tubby Smith will have a tough time selling Kentucky as a loveable long shot. Silk-suiters don't usually carry sling shots.

        “Even though people see us as Goliath, we're kind of looking at ourselves as David right now,” the UK coach said.

  • When: 1:10 p.m. today
  • Where: Cleveland State Convocation Center (13,610), Cleveland
  • Records: UK 23-9, Syracuse 25-5
  • TV: Ch. 12
  • Radio: WSAI-AM (1530), WNKR-FM (106.5)
  • 30: NCAA Tournament victories for Boeheim, tied with Adolph Rupp for ninth-most in history
  • 2-5: Boeheim's record vs. UK
  • 5: Orangemen with double-figure scoring averages
        Which made Jim Boeheim laugh.

        “They've got some big Davids out there,” he said.

        Boeheim's Syracuse team (25-5) is higher-seeded and favored over UK (23-9) in their NCAA second-round clash at 1:10 p.m. today in Cleveland State's Convocation Center.

        But Kentucky is Kentucky.

        “No one (favors) us to win, but we're supposed to win,” UK junior guard Saul Smith said. “Because we're Kentucky, everyone expects us to beat teams to a pulp. It's really weird.”

        Certainly, this is new ground for the Wildcats. They haven't been the lower seed in a game this early in the tournament in 15 years. The Orangemen returned their top seven players from last year; UK lost all five starters. Syracuse has nine players averaging 10 or more minutes a game; UK has nine players total and is expected to play only seven.

        The 19th-ranked Wildcats could exit quietly today and still have this season, hamstrung by youth and adversity, considered a modest success.

        Not that the thought entered their minds.

        “We're not satisfied,” freshman guard Keith Bogans said. “It's our turn now to show people were wrong about us. It doesn't matter if we're the underdog or not.”

        There are two ways to analyze UK's double-overtime squeaker Thursday over St.Bonaventure: The 'Cats spent all nine lives in the first round and will wilt today against a better team. Or, UK has discovered heart no one knew it had.

        “If this game doesn't show that (heart), I don't know that anything else can,” sophomore guard J.P. Blevins said. “We were backed into a corner and came out fighting.

        “I don't care what happens. When I look down and see Kentucky on my chest, I'm going to war. There's too much tradition going on in this locker room to let go.”

        The fatigue factor was the topic Friday, reporters wondering how UK could bounce back physically from its draining first-round game. The answer: rest. Bogans said he slept 12 hours Thursday night; Jules Camara reported 111/2 hours; and even light-sleeper Tayshaun Prince — “I usually only sleep six hours” — stayed in bed for 91/2.

        The same slumber was planned for Friday.

        “I don't think (fatigue) will be a factor,” Boeheim said. “St.John's played three tight games in a row in (the Big East Tournament) and used just six guys. Kids today can play 30 to 40 minutes a night.

        “There's a 21/2-minute rest every four minutes for TV timeouts. That's not like how it was when I played (in the late 1960s).”

        Syracuse started the season 19-0 but entered the tournament in a 5-5 slump. (UK, remember, went just 5-4 down the stretch.) The Orangemen have two first-team All-Big East players in senior point guard Jason Hart and senior center Etan Thomas. The latter, who averages 14 points and 9.4 rebounds, is a third-team All-American.

        Syracuse led the Big East in scoring (76.3 ppg) and average scoring margin (plus-12.7).

        “With the talent (Boeheim) has got and the balance on offense, he's probably more of a threat than he's been in a long time,” Tubby Smith said.

        Syracuse prefers to play a 2-3 zone defense, the kind against which UK has struggled because of poor outside shooting. UK has shot just .290 from 3-point range and would need to make its next 42 such attempts just to lift its average to .334 and tie the previous worst season mark in school history.

        At this point, though, such trivia often becomes trivial. It's hard to quantify nerve, desire and pride.

        “We're playing with a lot of emotion right now,” Saul Smith said. “We're not robots, you know? We wear the Kentucky jersey with pride.”

Saul draws tough task vs. Hart
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