LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Watching tape of his team struggling to
stay in front of Florida in a loss to the Gators on Saturday night
made Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie "want to throw up."
Gillispie might consider sneaking a bottle of antacids onto the
sideline Tuesday when the Wildcats host No. 3 Tennessee.
These are heady days for the high-flying Volunteers (16-1, 3-0
Southeastern Conference). Tennessee's ranking is the highest in
school history. The Volunteers lead the conference in nearly every
major offensive category and have the kind of depth - 12 players
average at least 10 minutes per game and nine are averaging at
least five points per contest - that used to be Kentucky's
Instead, the Wildcats (7-9, 1-2) have become largely a three-man
show. Guard Ramel Bradley has played every minute of Kentucky's
last four games while guard Joe Crawford and forward Patrick
Patterson have combined to miss just 24 minutes over the same span.
It makes for weary legs, though Gillispie doesn't buy into the
notion that his team's few elite players are wearing down.
"I think the only time that you ever get fatigued is if you let
your mind allow you to become fatigued," he said.
Besides, the Wildcats point out that they were able to stage
spirited second-half comebacks in tough losses to the Gators and
"I think we're showing some fight," Crawford said.
They'll need it against the Volunteers, who have become much
more than just senior guard Chris Lofton, though the native of
Maysville in northern Kentucky rarely passes on an opportunity to
show the Wildcats what they missed when they decided to let him
Lofton is averaging 19.2 points per game during his career
against Kentucky and has been even better in Rupp Arena. He is
averaging 24 points in two games there, including a 31-point
outburst two years ago.
Though Lofton's scoring and 3-point shooting percentage have
dipped this season, he's done other things to compensate. He's on
pace to set a career-high for assists and has become a better
"I think a lot of people just view him as a shooter, but I
think he's a very, very complete player," Gillispie said.
One who gets plenty of help from his teammates. Tennessee's deep
bench - the Volunteers' reserves scored 26 points in a win over
Ohio State on Saturday - allows coach Bruce Pearl to wear other
teams down with a suffocating pressure defense that is forcing 20.8
turnovers a game.
"They're probably the most athletic team top to bottom that
we've faced," Gillispie said. "We've got to do a good job of
having a better pace on offense."
It means trying to get to the basket after beating the pressure
rather than simply breathing a small sigh of relief after getting
to the frontcourt.
"We've settled too many times for just getting the ball across
halfcourt," Gillispie said. "We're way too slow. We've got to be
more of an attack mode and take the ball more to the basket."
It will be a delicate balance for the Wildcats. They don't have
the firepower to match Tennessee shot for shot, but if they don't
take advantage of the few opportunities beating the pressure will
provide, it won't matter.
"We're just going to try and get back and not let them get the
quick open 3s that they want to take, the quick baskets," Crawford
said. "I think we've been doing a good job of slowing the pace
down and not letting them run like they want to."
For all the steps the Volunteers have taken under Pearl, they
know the hot start won't matter if they can't keep it up. This is a
rivalry that the Wildcats have owned over the years. Kentucky leads
the series 139-64, including a 28-4 mark at Rupp Arena.
"It's a big challenge for us," Tennessee guard JaJuan Smith
said. "A lot of teams don't win in Rupp Arena. We're just going to
try to be one of the few."
A victory would further cement Tennessee's ascension to the top
of the SEC while the Wildcats can hardly afford to fall further
back in the pack.
"I don't think Kentucky has been in this position in a long
time," Crawford said. "But we've got to look at the positive. If
we win, it can change our season around."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)