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NEW TEAM EMERGES AFTER OLE MISS

Date story published: Sunday, January 23, 2005

As Associate Coach David Hobbs sketched the plan to beat Louisiana State on a pre-game blackboard, he sensed that Kentucky would play well.

"Guys had questions," he said. "A lot of times, they don't have questions.

"To me, that meant they were listening to what we said."

Whipping LSU 89-58 yesterday confirmed Hobbs' suspicion. Thus the Cats answered with an emphatic "No!" perhaps the biggest question hanging over Rupp Arena: Would UK repeat its dismally uneven play at Mississippi three days earlier? Not to mention the roller-coaster efficiency of several early-season games.

Kentucky blanketed LSU's inside tandem of Brandon Bass and Glen "Big Baby" Davis with team defense. Davis, a 6-foot-9, 310-pound freshman with double-doubles in his last three games, charged more often (twice) than he made baskets (one).

UK, which improved to 14-2 overall and a league-best 5-0 in the Southeastern Conference, limited LSU to a season-low 33-percent shooting. The Cats also converted 18 turnovers into 29 points -- the difference as LSU Coach John Brady saw it.

But UK Coach Tubby Smith cited the season-high 11 three-point baskets as a key.

"If you can make shots, everything else looks good," he said, "and you play with more energy."

Patrick Sparks, who suffered through one-for-seven three-point shooting at Ole Miss, led the turnaround against LSU. He matched his season high with five three-pointers (the same number he made at Louisville) as the Cats shot a season-best 55 percent from beyond the arc.

"Not to take anything from LSU, but Ole Miss gets right in your face," Smith said, explaining Sparks' (and the team's) turnaround. The Cats made three of 23 three-point attempts at Oxford. Against LSU, UK made its fourth with 10:10 left in the first half.

"We don't have the most physical backcourt," Smith said. "When we ran (against LSU), he got some separation (from the defender). When that happens, he can shoot it pretty well."

LSU, 9-6 overall and 2-2 in the SEC, did not get back defensively. "We gave up too many easy baskets off our turnovers," Brady said.

Hobbs noted the importance of that "separation" in Sparks' shooting. He described the junior guard as a "rhythm shooter," as most dead-eye marksmen are. As such, Sparks was pressured out of his rhythm by Ole Miss.

Against LSU, "he had enough room to be in rhythm and not be in a hurry-rhythm," Hobbs said.

The same Kentucky team that scored 16 first-half points at Ole Miss surpassed that total barely six minutes into the game and posted a season-high 49 points by halftime.

"LSU seemed a little more passive," reserve forward Bobby Perry said.

Kentucky led by as much as 20 in the first half, but the margin narrowed to 57-49 with 13:43 left. Then LSU made only three of 20 shots the rest of the game. A 17-2 run, which prodigal freshman Joe Crawford started with a three-pointer, put the game away.

"At the 10-minute mark, we were down 10," LSU senior guard Antonio Hudson said. "In a blink of an eye, we were down 20."

Hudson credited Kentucky's defense.

"They are more of a sound defensive team fundamentally," he said. "They help one another and then cover back. It wasn't like they were all up in us to where we couldn't breathe. But if one person got beat, somebody helped them. We'd reverse it, and somebody would help there."

Kentucky got a big assist from LSU's perimeter misfires. The Tigers made five of 22 three-point attempts, and made one of nine after reducing the UK lead to eight.

"Their perimeter really outplayed our guys," the LSU coach said, "and therein lies the difference in the game."

The difference on Kentucky's mind was this game's contrast to the struggle at Ole Miss. Staring at three straight road games, the Cats needed positive re-enforcement.

"Those are not easy places to play," Hobbs said of upcoming games at Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas.

"Hopefully it's a sign we're learning. We've been in this situation before where we thought we made progress."

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