Tuesday, October 08, 2002

UK Wildcats refocus after much-needed off-week

AP Sports Writer

        LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky's off-week could not have come at a better time. About a dozen Wildcats were stricken with flu-like symptoms soon after their 41-34 loss to Florida on Sept. 28.

        Luckily, an open date gave them all last week to recover. Kentucky (4-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) returns to action Saturday, hosting South Carolina (4-2, 2-1).

        “It came at a good time,” Kentucky coach Guy Morriss said of the break at his weekly news conference Monday. “A lot of them went home to see their girlfriends or Mom and Dad, get a home-cooked meal, that kind of stuff. They should be ready to go.”

        The only thing Morriss had to do Monday to get his players refocused was bring up last year's game with the Gamecocks in Columbia.

        South Carolina scored touchdowns on four of its first six possessions on its way to a 42-6 victory, Kentucky's most lopsided loss of the season.

        “We just laid an egg. They're going to remember that, because I've already reminded them of it,” Morriss said. “I don't think 'revenge' is the right word. I think it's something they want to atone from last year.”

        Something else Morriss will mention this week is penalties.

        The Wildcats were flagged 10 times for 79 yards against Florida and have had 10 or more penalties in three of five games. They lead the league with 46 penalties for 373 yards.

        “It's a huge concern to me,” Morriss said. “Much of the problem in the Florida game was due, in large part, to some very poor decisions by our players. Penalties always come at the wrong time, but there just has to be more of a conscious effort to get it corrected.”

        Morriss said he sensed his team played with a weaker mentality against the Gators than it had during its surprising 4-0 start.

        “The disappointing thing in the Florida game was the fact that we played not to lose, rather than play aggressively to win the game,” he said. “We've got to get back to where we relax, let our playmakers make plays, get after people, fly around and not be tentative and afraid to make mistakes.”

        Despite the loss in their conference opener, Morriss said the Wildcats still harbor hopes of winning the SEC — a distant dream when the season began.

        Morriss said many of the Wildcats pay close attention to SEC games on TV and have recognized the parity they've seen. Sixth-ranked Georgia (5-0, 2-0) is the only SEC team without a loss.

        “It's probably as balanced as it has been in a long time,” Morriss said of the league. “The gap is closing.”

        The Wildcats have seven games left, including matchups with Georgia (Oct. 26), No. 18 LSU (Nov. 9) and No. 10 Tennessee (Nov. 30). The rugged slate enhances the importance of Saturday's game.

        “The frame of mind we're in now, we believe we could win all six of 'em or we could lose all six of 'em,” Morriss said. “You can't take anybody for granted, but I think our frame of mind is good right now.

        “It's important for us to get after this bunch, so it kind of springboards us on through the fall,” Morriss said. “We are headed into the meat of our schedule.”

        Saturday's game kicks off at 6:30 p.m. EDT, Kentucky's third night game of the season.


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