UK Men's Basketball

Gillispie: Tougher play key for Cats

To hear Billy Gillispie, the Kentucky-Kansas State game could be the irresistible force facing the movable object.

Of course, the Kentucky coach hopes that's not the case when Kansas State applies pressure to UK. But in lining up team strengths and weaknesses for Friday night's game, K-State's winning ways match Kentucky's method for maddening defeat.

"They play right into our weakness we exhibited so far," Gillispie said in reference to the 53 turnovers UK committed in losses to Virginia Military Institute and North Carolina. "They'll overplay everything. They're very, very physical."

During the same Wednesday news conference, Gillispie called for his team to exhibit more toughness. He said that is most important factor in determining the success Kentucky enjoys this season.

While noting the increase in toughness against outmanned Longwood on Monday, Gillispie was cautious when asked about improved ballhandling in the face of pressure.

"We'll see this weekend," he said. "I think it'll be a great test for us.

"We'll have hiccups along the way (this season) because it doesn't change overnight. (But) we have a greater awareness of what we need to be trying to do. We're exhibiting more composure. It will be interesting to see."

Kentucky stumbled badly in the losses to VMI and North Carolina. But Kansas State Coach Frank Martin balked at the notion that Kentucky might be vulnerable to the kind of stifling pressure his team likes to apply.

Martin suggested that credit should be given to VMI and, especially, No. 1 North Carolina rather than trying to identify Kentucky's fatal flaw.

"I don't think it's a lack of talent or a lack of coaching or (being) vulnerable," Martin said. "I just think VMI could do that to a lot of people because of how they play. North Carolina, they do that to everybody they play. Anybody who plays North Carolina with two brand new guards, they're in for a treat."

Career backup Michael Porter (10 assists, 10 turnovers) and freshman DeAndre Liggins (17 assists, 16 turnovers) are learning on the job as UK's point guards.

"I don't think they're vulnerable at all," Martin said. "Billy will get those two guards to continue to understand how to play."

Gillispie and Martin agreed on one thing: Kansas State uses its depth and pressure to try to beat opponents. That's a departure from last season when K-State had freshman Michael Beasley (the second player taken in the 2008 NBA draft) and Bill Walker (now with the Celtics' D-league team) to beat opponents.

"The strength of the team is numbers," Gillispie said of Kansas State. "He (Martin) definitely has got them believing pressure defense, rebounding the ball and attacking is the best way they can be successful."

In terms of approach, Kansas State this season bares little resemblance to Kansas State last season. Beasley (26.2 ppg and 28 double-doubles) was a marvel, and Walker (16.1 ppg) an effective sidekick.

Now Kansas State counts on its point guard tandem to set the pace. Jacob Pullen (40 three-pointers last season as a freshman) scored 20 points in a game against eventual national champ Kansas.

Denis Clemente, second cousin of baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, played two seasons for Miami (Fla.) before transferring to K-State. In 2006, commentator Billy Packer called Clemente the fastest player in college basketball.

"He's a flash in the open court," Martin said of Clemente, who wears No. 21, the same number Roberto wore for the Pittsburgh Pirates. "That fits in perfectly in how we want to play offensively."

Kansas State's style defensively is a by-product of Martin's time as an assistant for Bob Huggins at Cincinnati and then K-State. Martin is proud to consider himself a disciple of Huggins, whose West Virginia team plays Iowa in the other semifinal here.

"We're into pressure," Martin said. "Pressuring the dribble. Pressuring the passing lanes. Pressuring shots."

As Gillispie said, how Kentucky handles that pressure will be "interesting to see."

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