Chattanooga coach expects a sharp Kentucky after loss to IU

Shulman: Loss to IU will keep Cats sharP

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 16, 2011 

Besides disappointing Kentucky, the loss at Indiana last weekend also frustrated UK's next opponent.

"Could y'all just have done me a favor and beaten Indiana," Chattanooga Coach John Shulman said Thursday, "and just kind of been bored going into Saturday night?"

Kentucky does not figure to be disinterested after losing at Indiana on a last-second shot. More likely, the Cats will be on edge against Chattanooga.

"That's kind of been par for the course," Shulman said of the bad luck and poor timing hounding his team.

Though returning four starters from a team that tied for the Southern Conference's North Division title last season, Chattanooga has lost one game in overtime, another in double overtime and two more by single digits.

"We're grasping defeat out of the jaws of victory," Shulman said before adding, "You have a very difficult task at Lexington. What do they do? They lose right before."

Then he added in a sarcastic tone, "It's just all working out."

Like a political spin doctor, Shulman made a case for how Kentucky could be riding a feel-good wave (read: on less-than-full Blue alert) going into the next game. He called UK-IU a "trap game" filled with largely uncharted fan enthusiasm. Yet, with few friends in a canyon-like arena, Kentucky's freshman-oriented team nearly pulled out the victory.

The Chattanooga coach noted Kentucky's victory over North Carolina the previous weekend.

"They don't have anywhere close to the experience of North Carolina," he said of the Cats, "and they beat North Carolina.

"It's a young, young, young team going into that hostile environment (at Indiana). And they still should have won."

When asked about the puzzling, puzzling, puzzling play of UK All-America candidate Terrence Jones at Indiana, Shulman's wariness showed.

"I ain't saying anything," he said, changing the topic to Jones' 52-point performance in UK's Blue-White Scrimmage.

"That's when my stomach ache first started," Shulman said.

Making Chattanooga's 3-7 record harder to understand is the team's experience. It's a veteran team with several transfers who have high-level Division I experience: Leading scorer Omar Wattod (pronounced Wah-TODD) transferred from Georgetown, Keegan Bell from Vanderbilt, Drazen Zlovaric from Georgia and Z. Mason from Mississippi (football).

"That's why it's been really disappointing," Shulman said. "We're a little bit in shock. We're kind of puzzled ourselves."

The Chattanooga coach suggested the team's position as a consensus pick to do well in the Southern Conference might have been a problem.

"Probably we thought it'd be a little easier than it's been," he said. "We return everybody. We're picked to win our league by everybody. That's pretty cool. Well, coolness doesn't win games."

In its opener, Chattanooga played competitively at Indiana for much of the first half. Then IU pulled away to a 78-53 victory.

Two days later, the Mocs had what Shulman called a "shoulda-coulda-woulda" game at Butler, losing 57-46.

"So we're back," he said of the players' mind-set. "We relax a little bit. You can't relax. Everybody's good now. I don't care who it is."

After losing 65-59 to Kennesaw State, Chattanooga beat Warren Wilson (a school not in the NCAA but in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association) and Savannah State before four losses by a total of 23 points (to Gardner-Webb, Georgia Southern, Charleston and Mercer).

The Mocs beat visiting Spalding by 50 on Tuesday.

Though already 0-2 in the Southern Conference, Shulman cautioned against fans making a judgment about Chattanooga, Kentucky or any team this early in a season. Three seasons ago, the Mocs got off to a 4-10 start (0-3 in the conference) and ultimately advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

Shulman said Western Carolina was "0 for December" last season and ultimately tied Chattanooga for first place in the North Division. Western Carolina lost all six of its games last December.

"If all you're worried about is your record, you've got some problems," Shulman said. "I'm not worried about that. I'm concerned about succeeding in January, February and March."

UK signeeon Naismith watch list

UK signee Alex Poythress is among the six senior boys named to the Naismith Trophy High School Player of the Year pre-season watch list as announced by the Atlanta Tipoff Club on Thursday.

Poythress, a senior at Clarksville (Tenn.) Northeast High School, is averaging 29.0 points through nine games this season.

The watch list was comprised by leading basketball journalists from around the country who form the national voting academy, and identify players under consideration for the award. The winner will be announced in March.

The watch list also includes UK target Shabazz Muhammad of Bishop Gorman (Nev.).

The remaining four are Kyle Anderson (UCLA), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Brandon Ashley (Arizona) and Isaiah Austin (Baylor).

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