LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Back-to-back losses to Mississippi and
South Carolina guaranteed Kentucky that its first appearance in the
polls in over a year would be just a cameo.
Coach Billy Gillispie figures the only way the Wildcats can get
a second chance is by stopping opponents from having so many second
chances, starting on Tuesday night against Mississippi State.
While Gillispie is still bothered by his team's inability to
hold onto the ball - 21 in a 78-77 loss to the Gamecocks on
Saturday - he's more concerned about the sudden loss of defensive
tenacity that propelled the Wildcats into the polls in the first
Kentucky (16-6, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) allowed the
Gamecocks to turn 17 offensive rebounds into 21 second-chance
points as the Wildcats let a 10-point second half lead slip away.
"Our biggest problem is we haven't been rebounding the
basketball like we need to defensively," Gillispie said. "We
can't continue to give teams more than one shot per possession and
we've been doing that the last couple of games."
The losses quieted talk of Kentucky being the de facto team to
beat after ripping through five straight wins to open the
conference season. Now the Wildcats find themselves in a three-way
tie with the Gamecocks and Florida atop the SEC East, with
Tennessee just a half-game back.
Not that Gillispie is looking at the standings. Trying to find a
way to deal with the Bulldogs (14-7, 4-2) and center Jarvis Varnado
is problem enough.
The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year dominated the
Wildcats during a win in Starkville last season, posting a triple
double with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks. He currently
leads the country in blocks per game (4.7) and has become more
polished on offense. His 13.0 points a game this season are a
career best, up from 7.9 per game a year ago.
"Varnado is one of the most improved players from one year to
another I've seen in a long time," Gillispie said.
Mississippi State's four-guard lineup has helped Varnado
flourish. The Bulldogs spread the court so well, opponents can't
just collapse in the lane and wait for Varnado to get the ball.
"They can really shoot that 3," Gillispie said. "You've got
to get out on them."
Going small has helped the Bulldogs become one of the early
season surprises in the decidedly underwhelming SEC West.
Mississippi State, however, was tripped up by rival Mississippi on
Saturday. The Bulldogs played that game without reserves Brian
Johnson and Elgin Bailey after the pair missed curfew. They will be
available against the Wildcats.
Getting Johnson and Bailey back could take some of the pressure
off Varnado, who appeared to tire late against the Rebels.
"Each game he has that bulls-eye on his chest," said
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury. "What's hurt him is he's
the only big in there now. He doesn't come off the ball as easy.
Fatigue is a part of it."
The only thing the Wildcats tired of last season was watching
Varnado swat away shot after shot. Gillispie said the Wildcats need
to be smart with the ball and realize they don't always have to
"You may want to hold onto the ball longer or take a different
shot," Gillispie said.
A little discretion could go a long way toward helping the
Wildcats make sure their little slide doesn't turn into an extended
funk. Gillispie said the Wildcats haven't panicked, but they need
to get back to basics.
"You don't want to lose anytime," he said. "What we didn't do
is we didn't guard and we didn't rebound."