UK Men's Basketball

Liggins has to botch and learn

There's no magic bullet. No cosmic switch to pull. No quick fix.

That was Coach Billy Gillispie's sobering assessment after No. 1 North Carolina romped to a 77-58 victory over Kentucky Tuesday night.

UK's guards crumbled in the face of intense first-half defensive pressure. Gillispie expects more of the same: defensive pressure, that is, not necessarily the crumbling. Although it would be wise to brace for an occasional crumble.

"Everybody's going to pressure us on the perimeter," Gillispie said. "That's what they should do with the inexperience (in UK's backcourt) and the way we're playing at the guard position. No question."

Kentucky committed 28 turnovers, the most by a UK team since Dec. 5, 2000 (29 against Eastern Kentucky). That made for 53 turnovers in the first two games.

This inspired a bit of gallows humor from Gillispie, who noted that the number of turnovers before the first television timeout had dropped from seven against Virginia Military Institute to six against North Carolina.

"So we've already improved drastically," he quipped.

Humor aside, Gillispie suggested freshman DeAndre Liggins' play in the second half (five assists, one turnover) as a sign of solid point guard play somewhere in a bumpy future.

"We have a very, very, very, very, very talented player out there who's learning," the UK coach said of Liggins. "If the guys will help him, and he'll continue to try to get better, I think he'll be something special."

In a perfect world, Liggins would be learning this season and playing with no pressure to make the difference between winning and losing. Gillispie referred to Liggins as "a colt out there."

To continue the horsey analogy: Because of Kentucky's roster situation, Liggins is in the starting gate for the first time, running turns for the first time, getting whipped with a crop for the first time and straining for the finish line for the first time.

"A luxury some folks maybe have is you could put him over there (on the bench) and let him watch and learn," Gillispie said. "We don't have that luxury."

UK lost even the semblance of that luxury when Derrick Jasper transferred.

When asked whether Liggins might start in place of junior Michael Porter when UK plays Delaware State on Saturday, Gillispie did not give a direct answer.

"I don't know," he said. "We'll see about all that. It's all about practice."

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who worked the North Carolina game, saw in Kentucky a team that should evoke a quality no fan wants to exhibit: patience.

"They're obviously not a good team," Bilas said of the Cats. "What I mean is not a good team by Kentucky standards."

Bilas suggested that Kentucky fits a pattern that's not unusual when a program changes coaches. The new coach's second season can be more challenging than the first. That seems to apply to former UK player John Pelphrey, who now begins his second season at Arkansas.

For Bilas, it's true for Gillispie at Kentucky.

"Right now, Kentucky doesn't have any guards," the analyst said. "... Right now, there's not a true point guard on that team."

When asked about Porter (five assists, nine turnovers through two games), Bilas questioned whether the junior from Modesto, Calif., was a point guard. In the pre-season, Porter said he saw himself as a shooting guard.

"He's a shooting guard," Bilas said. "Spot-up shooter and situational player."

Porter probably starts because Gillispie hoped to create, for as long as he could, the illusion of having the luxury to bring Liggins along slowly.

Bilas was less impressed with Liggins' second-half play at North Carolina. The analyst noted that North Carolina turned down its heat after building up a big early lead. He likened the Tar Heels to a high school kid who has $100 to spend at the movies. "He's not going to worry about how much the popcorn costs," Bilas said.

"(Liggins) did some good things. He's going to be a good player. But you're playing in the second half of a game that's clearly over."

Meanwhile, Kentucky must work to improve its ballhandling and decision-making.

When asked about UK's 28 turnovers, North Carolina Coach Roy Williams noted how he always wants his team to apply maximum pressure.

Williams also mentioned another factor. "Maybe their experience or maybe some casual play," he said of the Cats.

Bilas echoed Gillispie's post-game observation that Kentucky has no quick-fix solutions.

"It's got to be a roll-up-the-sleeves-and-go-to-practice thing," Bilas said. "At times, games will be painful, games will be ugly. They're going to celebrate things Kentucky seldom celebrates."

Bilas had a timely example of such celebrations:

"I would think, in a 20-point loss that DeAndre looked pretty good in the second half."

The Kentucky women's basketball team's most coveted recruit decided to stay closer to home and signed with St. John's, a Web site reported Wednesday.

Wing player Shenneika Smith, the No. 7 player in the nation as ranked by ESPN's, signed with St. John's on Wednesday, according to the site.

Smith was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The combo guard from New York told the Herald-Leader two weeks ago that her visit to Lexington had gone so well that she wasn't planning to take anymore.

Last week, she told the recruiting site that she had decided to make more unofficial visits to Ohio State and Syracuse.

In the end, though, she chose St. John's over all of the above.