Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Tubby on defensive with UK

The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Kentucky coach Tubby Smith knows good defense when he sees it. And he hasn't seen much of it from his team lately.

"We have got to improve in that area immensely," Smith said Monday. "I always say it's going to get better. Obviously, it's not."

The 16th-ranked Wildcats (11-3, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) held South Carolina to 38 percent shooting from the field - 21 percent from 3-point range - in a 62-55 victory Saturday night. The Gamecocks' 3-point shooting percentage and point total were season lows for a Kentucky opponent.

But heading into tonight's game at Vanderbilt (8-5, 1-1), the Wildcats still rank last in the SEC in field-goal defense (43.5 percent) and 3-point field goal defense (37 percent). Kentucky is allowing 70 points per game, second worst in the SEC behind Georgia's 72 points per game.

Smith said most of the breakdowns are coming in the Wildcats' man-to-man defense. Too often this season, Smith said he's seen opponents shred Kentucky's defense simply by dribbling through it.

"We need to understand and focus on doing those little things - getting in the right spots, challenging shots. We just give up too many easy baskets," Smith said. "It's something we can be good at, and we will be good at."

South Carolina hit four of its first six shots and jumped to a 13-7 lead Saturday. Smith didn't wait much longer to abandon the man-to-man and switch to a more conservative 2-3 zone.

The Gamecocks missed 11 of their final 16 shots in the first half and trailed 32-19 at halftime.

Kentucky has used zone defenses sporadically this season. Smith also made the switch from man-to-man in the Wildcats' 74-71 victory at Tennessee on Jan.8.

"We've utilized it of late because I have been concerned about people beating us off the dribble and beating us to the basket," Smith said. "We're staying in it more minutes than we would normally stay in it. But if it's working, we're going to stay in it."

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings is surprised how much Smith is using zones.

"I've been playing against Tubby Smith's teams since he was at Tulsa (1991-95)," said Stallings, who coached at Illinois State from 1994-99. "He's a man-to-man guy."

But Smith says when it comes to shutting down opponents, he isn't stubborn.

"I think of myself as a coach who's willing to adapt and change and go to things that you have to in order to be successful," Smith said.

The Wildcats admit they've struggled with their man-to-man defense.

"It's really shaky right now," said Princeton High grad Erik Daniels, who scored 19 points against South Carolina.

Tipoff: 9 p.m. today, Memorial Gym (14,168), Nashville, Tenn.

Records: UK 11-3 (2-0 SEC), Vandy 8-5 (1-1).


Radio: WSAI-AM (1530).

Series: UK leads 123-36.

Line: UK by 2.

Chuck HayesSo.6-68.3
Erik DanielsJr.6-810.2
Marquis EstillSr.6-910.9
Keith BogansSr.6-517.7
Gerald FitchJr.6-311.6
Coach: Tubby Smith (143-46, sixth season; 267-108 overall)

Brian ThorntonSo.6-813.7
Matt FreijeJr.6-916.5
Corey SmithSo.6-59.0
Russell LakeyJr.6-06.7
Jason HolwerdaSo.6-55.5
Coach: Kevin Stallings (59-46, fourth season; 182-109 overall)

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