Date story published: Wednesday, December 7, 2005
ATLANTA -- Kentucky changed its offense in practice this week to try to get its big men more involved.
The fruit of that labor showed in UK's 73-46 victory over Georgia State last night.
Most vividly, it showed in Shagari Alleyne, at 7-foot-3 the tallest player in UK history. Seven inches taller than any of Georgia State's starters, he came off the bench and scored a career-high 16 points and grabbed six rebounds, the latter part of Kentucky's 45-23 domination of the boards.UK Coach Tubby Smith had a simple explanation for Alleyne's outburst. The big man had scored seven points all season and played 12 minutes the last five games.
"We finally threw the ball inside," Smith said. "That's been our biggest problem."
Alleyne, who also had a career-high three assists, noted how Kentucky adjusted its offense in practice since the loss to North Carolina on Saturday. More of an emphasis on passing into the low post. Better spacing for the big men to operate.
Smith apparently issued what in his post-game remarks sounded like an ultimatum. The UK coach counted only 12 passes into the post against North Carolina.
"That's been a real problem all year," he said, "and that's not going to happen again. I don't care if we have to change our perimeter people to do it."
Coincidentally, the Cats played without starting point guard Rajon Rondo. He was getting over a case of strep throat and watched the game from the UK bench wearing a natty gold suit.
Low-post scoring was the bright spot in the first half as Kentucky had just a 30-24 lead at the break against a Georgia State team that lost to George Mason by 30 in its last outing. And the Cats needed a remarkable comeback to get the lead.
Georgia State (2-3) scored the first 11 points of the game and forced Kentucky to retreat into a zone defense. The Panthers made five of their first six shots while UK tried in vain to establish its starting center, Lukasz Obrzut, as a low-post scorer.
After Obrzut badly missed two post-up attempts in UK's first four possessions, Smith used the first television timeout to substitute four players. Alleyne, Brandon Stockton, Rekalin Sims and Ramel Bradley joined Joe Crawford, who had entered the game at the 18:35 mark.
During the television timeout, a chant of "overrated, overrated" filled Philips Arena.
The new combination clicked, thanks greatly to Alleyne, who gave the Cats their first fairly consistent low-post scoring of the season. He scored UK's first points on a dunk with 15:02 left.
Barely a minute later, Alleyne posted up for back-to-back baskets off baby hooks. This relative explosion (UK had had no more than three post-up baskets in any previous game) sparked the comeback.
When asked whether the early post-up baskets boosted his confidence, Alleyne said, "My confidence has always been there. It's not really a confidence factor. It's just playing off instinct rather than thinking."
Alleyne's layup off a Sims pass gave Kentucky its first lead, 16-14 with 9:48 left. Alleyne had half of UK's points, prompting a Georgia State fan to yell, "He's too big."
Alleyne started the second half along with Crawford, Stockton, Bradley and Sims. The junior from the Bronx again came up big.
He dunked for the half's first basket to surpass his previous career high of 11 points against Morehead State last season.
On UK's next possession, Alleyne rebounded Bradley's miss and passed cross-court to Crawford. Crawford's three-pointer (part of his 14-point game, which tied a career high) gave the Cats their first double-digit lead: 35-24 with 18:27 left.
Kentucky poured it on the rest of the way.
When asked how big Alleyne loomed in Georgia State's game plan, 6-foot-7 forward Rashad Chase laughed before his coach, Michael Perry, said, "Looking at his history, he was more successful against mid-major teams.
"For us, it was the wrong night for him to come out of the doghouse. He really played well. He was the difference in the game."
Smith disagreed with the term "dog house." The UK coach noted that academic shortcomings caused him to bench Alleyne for a game earlier this season. That marked the fifth time in the last two seasons that lax classroom performance led to Alleyne's benching.
"His (problem) is mostly off the court," Smith said. "Doing what he's supposed to do off the court. Everybody's happy when you do what you're supposed to do. If I'm not happy, he's not happy. Simple as that.
"He's here to get an education. That's what I told his parents."
Alleyne dismissed any academic problems as "minor things here and there."
The bigger issue, he suggested, involved Kentucky using its height.
"Coach told us we were one of the tallest teams in the country," Alleyne said. "We're the tallest team he'd had. We should be more of a presence."