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Kentucky Heads West To Vegas

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Billy Gillispie had barely sat down during
Kentucky's media day last month when someone asked the second-year
coach who was going to play point guard for the Wildcats.
Gillispie shrugged his shoulders and replied "good question."
Six weeks later, he's still waiting for an answer.
Kentucky (2-2) heads to Las Vegas for the final two rounds of
the Las Vegas Invitational this weekend looking for some
consistency out of guards Michael Porter and DeAndre Liggins. The
duo have the unenviable task of trying to replace former star Ramel
Bradley, who graduated, and the steady Derrick Jasper, who
transferred to UNLV.
Four games into the season, results have been mixed. Porter and
Liggins have combined for 27 assists and 26 turnovers, not exactly
the kind of assist to turnover ratio that can endear you to
coaches. Yet Gillispie remains upbeat, particularly about the way
his players have responded after losses to VMI and North Carolina
to start the season.
"We are much better now than we were 10 days ago," Gillispie
said after the Wildcats beat Longwood 91-57 on Monday. "We are
improving leaps and bounds on a daily basis. We will have some
setbacks because teams will do different things defensively. It is
a very tough position but we are getting better all the time."
The Wildcats will need to be better on Friday against Kansas
State, who is off to a 5-0 start, albeit against relatively tame
competition. Kansas State is forcing opponents into nearly 20
turnovers a game, not exactly a good sign for Kentucky, which
giving it away 21 times a contest.
Some of the miscues, Gillispie said, have less to do with
defensive pressure and more to do with maturity. The Wildcats don't
have a senior in their player rotation while Liggins and fellow
freshman Darius Miller have been getting a relatively heavy
workload. Porter, a junior, is averaging a career-high 19 minutes a
game and is trying to prove to Gillispie he can make good decisions
at both ends of the floor.
Though Gillispie is staying patient, he won't hesitate to use
the bench as motivation. When Porter missed a pass thrown by Miller
34 seconds into the game against Longwood, Gillispie briefly took
Porter off the floor. Porter returned a couple of minutes later and
finished with a modest stat line of two points, two assists and
just one turnover.
"We're starting to play a little smarter," Gillispie said.
"We have to eliminate the dumb mistakes, but that's inexperience
sometimes, trying too hard sometimes."
Youthful mistakes are to be expected on such a young team.
Liggins, whose 6-foot-6 frame gives him a distinct size advantage
over most point guards, is still learning the offense and has a
tendency to dribble the ball a little too high, giving opponents a
chance to swipe at it.
Liggins turned it over four times against Longwood, though
that's not as troubling as his potential problems at the foul line.
Liggins missed all three of his free throws against the Lancers,
and he won't see the floor in crunch time if his free-throw
shooting becomes a liability.
"The biggest thing is if you've got a point guard that is going
to be 0-3 from the foul line you can't play him the last five
minutes of the game," Gillispie said. "That's the biggest concern
I have. He has to do a better job of playing with his teammates.
He's not a selfish player, it's just a learning situation for a
guy. The turnovers he had in the first half, he was trying to make
a play and he doesn't always have to make a play."
Liggins' athleticism, however, has already won over some of his
teammates.
"I've been telling him he'd have his ups and downs in the game
and that it's a learning process," said guard Jodie Meeks. "I see
him improving overall. He's a freshman and he'll have his ups and
his downs."
So are the Wildcats. Gillispie stressed that how they perform
this weekend won't dictate how the season goes, but allows it would
be encouraging to see his team play a little tougher against
quality competition.
"We are going to have some hiccups along the way because things
cannot change overnight," Gillispie said. "We have a greater
awareness of what we need to be trying to do. We are starting to
show a little bit more composure."
A little composure could go a long way in Las Vegas. If a couple
of supporting players can emerge around stars Meeks and Patrick
Patterson, the Wildcats know they have the potential to beat the
odds in Sin City and come away with a pair of momentum-boosting
wins.
"We're a work in progress," Gillispie said. "Every team in
America is right now. I don't care if you're 4-0, 0-4, 2-2. It's an
extremely long season. You really start finding out how good you
are and what you can become after you start playing games."


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