WKYT | Lexington, Kentucky | Sports

Cats Brace For #1 Seed Kansas

CHICAGO (AP) - Mention the words Kentucky, Kansas and last year
in the same breath, and Wildcats forward Bobby Perry is sure to
grimace.
The Wildcats have bragging rights over Kansas, Duke, North
Carolina and anybody else when it comes to history and tradition.
When they visited Kansas last year, though, the winningest program
in college history got whupped like a newcomer to Division III.
The 73-46 loss at Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 7, 2006, was the
worst in Tubby Smith's 10 years at Kentucky, and it still stings a
year later.
"It felt like we ran into a bomb," Perry said flatly. "We
really don't want to remember any part of that game. It was a
pretty bad beating. They played extremely well and we played
extremely bad. The fact it was my birthday, it was even worse.
"I just want to forget that whole day, period."
Sorry, no chance of that. Not when Kentucky is facing Kansas
again, this time in the NCAA tournament. The eighth-seeded Wildcats
(22-11) play top-seeded Kansas (31-4) in the second round of the
West Regional on Sunday. Another showing like last year, and the
criticism of Smith is sure to go up a notch.
"I'm sure their staff will use it as motivation," Kansas coach
Bill Self said Saturday. "But bottom line, it's two different
teams. And it was played in Allen Fieldhouse and (Randolph) Morris
didn't play. So we're not going to put much stock in it. I don't
think either team will get much out of it, to be honest."
Try telling that to the Kentucky guys.
While Kansas likes to claim it is the epicenter of college
basketball - James Naismith, who invented the game, was a professor
there, after all - the state of Kentucky would beg to differ. The
Wildcats have won more games than anybody else, made more
appearances in the NCAA tournament and won more titles than anybody
but UCLA.
Their list of former players and coaches is a Who's Who of
college basketball: Adolph Rupp, C.M. Newton, Joe B. Hall, Pat
Riley, Cliff Hagan, Dan Issel, Ralph Beard - they're all part of
Kentucky's rich tradition.
So to be beaten as badly as the Wildcats were last year, even if
it was at Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse, that's not going to be taken
lightly.
"They were really, right out of the gates, something I don't
think our players were really expecting," Smith said. "It just
hit us so hard and so quick, it took a lot of the wind out of our
sails early. We didn't quit, but we didn't show a lot of toughness.
"They just manhandled us in every way possible."
Kentucky missed 17 of its first 20 shots in that game, and shot
just 24 percent for the game. It didn't have an assist until the
second half, and wound up with only five.
Granted, the Wildcats were without Morris, their go-to player on
offense and defense. Morris sat out the first 14 games of the
2005-06 season because he'd declared for the NBA draft after the
previous season.
"They have a whole different team just by having Randolph
Morris back down in the paint," said Brandon Rush, whose breakout
game came against Kentucky, when he finished with 24 points and 12
rebounds.
"He takes up a lot of room and he's a big presence on defense,
too, because he blocks a lot of shots."
Morris was definitely the difference in Kentucky's victory over
Villanova on Friday night. He finished with 19 points and 11
rebounds, his 12th double-double of the year, and also had a block
and a steal.
Though Villanova has sizeable big men in Will Sheridan and
Curtis Sumpter, the northern 'Cats had no answer for Morris in the
post. When the did contain him, he simply kicked the ball out to
his teammates.
"He is a load," Self said. "He changes everything on how you
prepare for them and how you defend them. We played (Joakim) Noah,
(Al) Horford, and to me, Morris will be as difficult to guard
individually as anybody we played against."
But just as this Kentucky team is improved, the Jayhawks have
gotten better, too. Much better.
Though Kansas is an inexperienced team - its top five scorers
are freshmen (Darrell Arthur, Sherron Collins) and sophomores
(Rush, Julian Wright, Mario Chalmers) - the Jayhawks came into the
tournament as one of the hottest in the country.
The Jayhawks have won 12 straight, including a 107-67 rout of
Niagara on Friday night in which all but one player - that includes
the scrubs at the very end of the bench - scored. Rush, Wright,
Chalmers and Arthur are all averaging 10 points or better, and
Collins is close behind at 9.8.
They're outscoring opponents by 18, and outrebounding them by
7½. They're averaging nine steals a game and running other teams
ragged with an offense so frenetic it would wear out a hyper
2-year-old.
"It's not just one or two players," Smith said. "That's what
makes them so difficult to guard, because they have so many
different weapons, so many ways to beat you. ... They're probably
improved from last year, but we're improved as well."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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