Saturday, February 1, 2003

Well-rested Wildcats hit hardwood again

After week off, UK pays visit to Gamecocks

The Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Kentucky coach Tubby Smith worries that South Carolina might choose today's game against his seventh-ranked Wildcats to finally break out.

He might want to share his reasoning with Gamecocks coach Dave Odom, who's not so sure of anything about his team right now.

"The long and short of it is I've been amazed at a lot of things that have happened - in both directions," Odom said.

For instance, he was thrilled South Carolina (7-9, 1-5 Southeastern Conference) hung with No. 4 Florida in a 77-75 loss two weeks ago. But in their past two games - losses at No. 21 Mississippi State and Tennessee - the Gamecocks couldn't shoot more than 36 percent.

To break a five-game losing streak against Kentucky (15-3, 5-0), which is on a nine-game winning streak, seems pretty unlikely. So what has Smith on edge?

Well, the Wildcats haven't played in a week since taking apart Alabama 63-46. In Smith's way of thinking, that's momentum wasted.

"When you're winning and when you're playing well, you want to hurry up and play again," Smith said. "We're certainly going to try and practice the way we play."

Those must be some pretty strong practice sessions.

Kentucky hasn't been tested in nearly three weeks since beating the Gamecocks 62-55 on Jan. 11 at Rupp Arena. Ever since, they've toppled a top-10 team in Notre Dame, an undefeated SEC team in Auburn and a former No. 1 in the Crimson Tide.

There's not one Wildcat leading the way, either. Gerald Fitch had 16 points in games against Alabama and Auburn, Chuck Hayes had 17 points and 16 rebounds against Notre Dame, and Keith Bogans has been the team's top scorer at nearly 17 points per game.

According to South Carolina's Odom, the biggest reason for Kentucky's roll - its nine wins in a row are the most since the 1998 national championship team ended the season with 13 straight victories, then won four more the next season - has been a suffocating defense that swamps to swamp opponents and leads to easy transition baskets. The Wildcats are They're tall, fast and won't sacrifice defense to get an edge on the offensive end, Odom said.

And there will be no looking past South Carolina which has lost 12 of the last 13 in the series, to Tuesday's SEC East showdown with Florida.

The only thing that bugs him, Smith said, is their down time.

"I'm concerned about that week off," he said.

The Odom and the Gamecocks aren't preparing for an unbeatable Big Blue, but a team that they outplayed down the stretch at Kentucky.

"We took it to them and we know we can do it," said Kerbrell Brown, who is averaging nearly 11 points per game in his first season at South Carolina.

South Carolina forward Chuck Eidson says despite the frustrating stretch, the team hasn't given up on improving.

"We win this one and who knows," he said.

Last season, it took the Gamecocks until the end of the year to find their winning form. After losing six of its last nine regular-season games, South Carolina rallied to win six of its next eight in a run to the NIT finals. That stretch included a 70-57 win over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament.

The Gamecocks might get a boost, albeit a minor one, if injured guard Chris Warren returns today. Warren, who broke a small bone in his left ankle almost a month ago, worked out Thursday.

"Three jump shots, three 'Hallelujahs,' when they went in," Odom said.

Maybe that's something worth worrying about for Kentucky's Smith.

No. 7 Kentucky at South Carolina

Tipoff: 1 p.m. today, The Carolina Center (17,600), Columbia, S.C.

Records: UK 15-3 (5-0 Southeastern Conference), USC 7-9 (1-5).

Radio: WSAI-AM (1530).

TV: Ch. 64.

Series: UK leads 30-5.

Line: UK by 5.


Chuck HayesSo.6-68.7
Erik DanielsJr.6-89.1
Marquis EstillSr.6-911.2
Keith BogansSr.6-516.8
Gerald FitchJr.6-312.3
Coach: Tubby Smith (147-46, sixth season; 271-108 overall).


Kerbrell BrownJr.6-810.6
Rolando HowellJr.6-99.7
Tony KitchingsSr.6-109.5
Chuck EidsonSr.6-711.0
Jarod GeraldFr.6-10.2
Coach: Dave Odom (29-23, second season; 307-197 overall).

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