Saturday, February 09, 2002

Kentucky searching for killer instinct

Hope to sustain intensity through 2nd-half vs. LSU

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — Kentucky has spent the first three months of the season searching for a killer instinct.

        With only seven games left before conference tournament play begins, including today's game at Louisiana State, time is running perilously short.

        “We have to be able to put people away and not get comfortable when we have a lead,” junior forward Keith Bogans said Friday. “It's something we have to learn to do consistently, each and every day and each and every game.

        “We can't just do it one game here and then not do it the next game. We've seen now that every time we turn it off, we think we can turn it back on and it's too late.”

        Seventh-ranked Kentucky (15-6, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) held halftime leads in four of its six losses. Against Tennessee on Wednesday, the Wildcats led 39-30 at the break but seemed to lose their intensity as the second half began.

        A similar pattern was evident in losses to Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama as Kentucky lacked the same sense of urgency early in the second half that it had in the opening few minutes of the game.

        “When you have a lead at halftime, you can't think about what the score is,” senior forward Tayshaun Prince said. “You've got to focus and play like it's the beginning of the game all over again. That's something we haven't done very well.”

        Loss of focus, Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said, has been a season-long problem with this group of players — a problem he hopes can be solved at LSU (12-10, 2-7).

        “One of the things we've tried to establish is that killer instinct we need to have when we get a lead on someone,” Smith said. “We seem to lose some of our aggressiveness coming out of the locker room.

        “That's something we're going to work on during this LSU game. We need to come out of there focused and ready to play.”

        Distractions have been plentiful for Kentucky this season and may have played some role in the team's erratic play.

        First it was Rick Pitino's return to Rupp Arena. Then Marvin Stone's transfer. Then a broken wrist that kept backup point guard J.P. Blevins out of the lineup for nearly five weeks.

        Now it's the playing time of freshman guard Rashaad Carruth, who has been in Smith's doghouse several times since Christmas.

        Smith kept Carruth on the bench against Tennessee as a disciplinary measure after the 6-foot-3 sharpshooter missed a team curfew. His accuracy from the outside could have helped the Wildcats down the stretch against the Vols.

        “Everybody wants to play more,” Smith said. “Every guy on our team thinks he should be playing every minute of every game. We want them to be hungry and eager to play.

        “In Rashaad's case, I tried to let him know you've got to earn an opportunity to play. It's disappointing because he's been playing extremely well. But as I told him, we have standards and rules he's going to have to abide by.”

        Smith added that Carruth would travel with the team to LSU and would be available to play today.

        “I don't want another distraction — period,” he said. “You know what a distraction is? It's something that takes away from the concentration of the team — and me.”

        Carruth was not available for comment before Friday's practice.

        Smith said he's contemplating lineup changes for today's game but declined to discuss them. Bogans, however, said the formula for the rest of the season is simple.

        “The No.1 thing we have to do now is take care of the ball and execute,” Bogans said. “It's too far into the season to let anything else distract us right now. We've got to win games and get back into the SEC race. That's it.”


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