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'Big Shot Z' shoots best in prime time

As Kentucky knows only too well, there's a good reason Georgia guard Zac Swansey goes by "Big Shot Z." Among the notches on his three-point gun is the shot that beat UK in the Southeastern Conference Tournament last March.

So when asked about Swansey's knack for making clutch shots, UK Coach Billy Gillispie replied in a dry voice, "Yeah, I know he had the knack that one day."

Swansey's turnaround three-pointer with 1.2 seconds left in overtime propelled Georgia to a 60-56 overtime victory over Kentucky.

"My nickname is 'Big Shot Z' ever since the Kentucky game," Swansey said. "At the end of games, (teammates) look to get me the ball."

That sensible thinking paid off against Wofford on Dec. 20 when Swansey made not one, but two three-pointers in the final 15 seconds to give Georgia an improbable 74-73 victory.

"Dec. 20 and I turned 20," Swansey said of a most memorable birthday. "I'll always remember the 20th (birthday)."

The first three-pointer against Wofford resembled the one against Kentucky because good defense left Swansey with no good option except to launch a prayer. Teammate Ricky McPhee was supposed to take the shot. "He went up in the air, kind of lost control of the ball and he kind of threw back to me," Swansey said. "I just shot it."

On the second, Swansey simply flung the ball from, oh, 35 feet and swished it through at the buzzer.

"Kind of cool," Swansey said. "It was my 20th birthday. So I guess it was kind of a birthday from God."

Swansey, a 6-foot-1 sophomore from Dunwoody, Ga., credits his father, Ron, for instilling a take-charge attitude.

"That's the way I was brought up," Swansey said. "I want to be that go-to guy. It's something that just came naturally. I was always wanting to take the last shot. Whether I make it or I miss it, I want to be that man taking the last shot.

"Fortunately, the last couple I've taken have gone in. I guess you could say I'm kind of lucky."

Going back through high school, Swansey guessed that he's taken about nine last-second shots and made about half of them. "You just can't be afraid to fail," he said.

Curiously, Swansey hasn't been an especially dead-eye shooter. His career accuracy from three-point range is only 28.4 percent (19-for-67).

"Maybe I need to wait till the end of the game to shoot them," he said.

Three-point shooting is not at the top of Swansey's list of responsibilities. He's replaced do-everything Sundiata Gaines, who led Georgia through action and willpower the last four seasons.

When asked how Swansey is doing in the unenviable task of replacing Gaines, Georgia Coach Dennis Felton said recently, "He's coming along. He really is. He's looking like he has some experience under his belt.

"We don't expect him to be Sundiata. He's a different player. But we expect him to be a terrific point guard in his way."

Gillispie touted Swansey's improvement from a freshman who could only go to his right to a player who can go left, at least some.

Swansey expects Kentucky to seek revenge. But he noted how Georgia barely resembles the team that beat the Cats last March. With an 0-2 start in SEC play, the Dawgs aren't thinking of last year.

"We have to find a way to get a win in conference play," Swansey said, "and get on the board."

If a buzzer-beater is required, Georgia will look for Big Shot Z.

Meeks

■ Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings, who only saw replay highlights: "Obviously, an incredible performance. He's an incredible player. He really is."

Incredible?

"The combination of speed, quickness and strength and durability. Then his shooting skills and ability to drive the ball. He plays every facet of offense just about as well as it can be played. I think he'll be a terrific pro."

■ South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn: "One thing I did see was the way the team reacted to him as soon as the buzzer sounded. I thought that spoke volumes because you can see a guy get 54 and maybe his teammates are not happy.

"I thought that said a lot about the kid and the team, as well."

■ LSU Coach Trent Johnson only watched a portion of the game before leaving to attend a function. "When he was right about 30 (points), I had to leave. That was enough for me."

■ Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey put the 54 points in the context of how well teams can scout opponents and plot defensive strategies. That applies more so for a high-visibility program like Kentucky. "If you can't get film on Kentucky, you don't own a TV."

Jordanesque

Former UK All-American Kenny Walker found it hard to compare Jodie Meeks' 54-point performance to any other game.

"Best college performance I've ever seen," Walker said. "And I saw Melvin Turpin put on some pretty good shows."

Then Walker thought of one other performance: The night Michael Jordan scored 55 points on Walker's New York Knicks team.

"Think of what I just said," Walker said. "I compared him to the greatest player of all time."

In both games, a great shooter and scorer got in a rhythm, his confidence grew and the scoreboard lit up like a long line of traffic lights on Nicholasville Road.

"He rode that wave the whole game," Walker said of Meeks.

Recalling Jordan's 55-point night, Walker said such a performance causes defenders to adjust their objective.

"You hope you don't end up on SportsCenter," he said. "The first thing you keep telling yourself is don't let this guy catch the ball. He's in such a rhythm. Then it's don't let him embarrass me.

"Quite honestly, it's a helpless feeling. No matter what you do, he sucks the life out of you. You could see it in the faces of the Tennessee players: What else can we do to stop him?"

Different game

Cotton Nash, whose 22.7-point career scoring average ranks only behind Dan Issel (25.8 ppg) in Kentucky history, noted how much the game has changed.

"You tried to outscore your opponent, that was the philosophy back then," Nash said of his playing days (1961-64). "If a team ran with us, there was not much defense on either side of the ball."

In Nash's senior season of 1963-64, Kentucky scored 100 or more points 10 times.

Defense rules nowadays. Or as columnist Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe points out, coaches almost prefer the opponent have the ball.

You'd have to go back to Feb. 14, 2001 to count UK's last 10 100-point games.

Nash recalled a 1964 game against Ole Miss in which he and the Rebels' top scorer, Don Kessinger, had off-nights shooting. UK grabbed 108 rebounds, which remains an NCAA single-game record.

"We ran so hard and for so long, just the whole game," Nash said. "It was hard for the other team to slow us down."

Third scorer

Never mind the ongoing debate about UK needing a third scorer. Jodie Meeks' 54-point night at Tennessee suggested no urgency for a second scorer. No other Cat hit double figures in the victory.

UK Coach Billy Gillispie used the occasion to needle those who say it's necessary to have a third scorer. "Really disappointed we're still trying to look to develop that third scorer," he said.

Lost in the translation was the point originally made by ESPN's Dick Vitale: a team like Kentucky can win a lot of games with two scorers. But a championship run requires a more diversified attack.

Among those who subscribe to that thinking is the player whose single-game scoring record Meeks' broke.

"Very important," Dan Issel said of the consistent third scorer. "Tennessee did a pretty good job taking Patrick (Patterson) away. They had no answer for Jodie, obviously.

"If you have a third scorer to keep the pressure off Jodie and Patrick, I think it will be very important for Kentucky's success."

Issel cited the Kentucky-Louisville game.

"It was obvious what they wanted to do was take away Jodie and Patrick," he said. "Even though I didn't think Louisville played very well, that enabled them to win that game."

SEC-Big E

No Cawood?

Reader Jeff Richardson sent along a list of the top 50 sportscasters of all time, as determined by the American Sportscasters Online.

Richardson objected to the absence of Cawood Ledford, whose call of UK basketball games for 39 years gave him a legendary status.

"While I recognize the list includes mostly broadcasters from networks or professional team networks, how sad for those of us who grew up in Kentucky to not see our beloved Cawood Ledford included," Richardson wrote in an e-mail. "How doubly sad it is to see Dick Vitale who, though ebullient and passionate about college basketball and the kids who play it, possesses no classic broadcast skills."

Vitale was No. 47 on the list.

The top five on the list were Vin Scully (Los Angeles Dodgers play-by-play), Mel Allen (New York Yankees play-by-play), Red Barber (Brooklyn Dodgers play-by-play), Curt Gowdy (Boston Red Sox play-by-play and later the voice the NBC sports) and Howard Cosell (Monday Night Football, boxing and self-styled electronic journalist).

Other notables on the list include No. 7 Jim McKay (ABC's Wide World of Sports), No.16 Ernie Harwell (Detroit Tigers play-by-play) and No. 37 Marty Brennaman (Cincinnati Reds play-by-play).

The entire list can be seen at the Web site www.americansportscastersonline.com/top50sportscasters.html.

'Mr. Generosity'

The death of longtime UK fan Jerry Healy represented a personal loss for ESPN commentator Dick Vitale.

Besides a shared interest in college basketball, Healy participated in Vitale's charitable endeavors. That participation included a $50,000 donation to the V Foundation, the cancer-fighting organization named in honor of the late Jim Valvano.

"I call him Mr. Generosity," Vitale said.

Vitale described Healy as a "caring, loving guy" and a "true, loyal Kentucky fan."

Who's Dan Issel?

When Jodie Meeks scored 54 points at Tennessee, he broke Dan Issel's single-game scoring record. Issel scored 53 at Ole Miss 39 years ago.

As ESPN's anchormen and analysts discussed Meeks' record-breaking performance, commentator Jason Williams had a question.

"Who's Dan Issel?" the former Duke star asked.

Ouch. I'm bracing for the day someone asks: Who's Jamal Mashburn?

Happy birthday

To Rupp Runt Larry Conley. He turns 65 on Thursday.

Conley marked the occasion recently by signing up for Medicare. He said he told the clerk, "It's about time I got some of the money back after putting in money for 45 years."

After working telecasts of SEC basketball for more than 20 years, Conley is bracing for a winter without trips to Lexington, Fayetteville, Gainesville, etc, etc. ESPN will begin doing SEC basketball next season and it seems likely that all-sports network will sideline the longtime team of Tom Hammond and Conley.

"I'm going to really miss this," said Conley, a cancer survivor who's still going strong. "It's going to be a real void, and I hate that."

Conley will be busy this weekend. He and Lexington personality Dave Baker called the Florida-Arkansas game on Saturday.

Dave Neal joins Conley in the call of Kentucky's game at Georgia on Sunday.

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