UK Men's Basketball

Appalachian State looks to play spoiler in hoops, too

Location: Boone, N.C. (about 85 miles west of Winston-Salem)

Enrollment: 16,600

Conference: Southern

Nickname: Mountaineers

Colors: Black and gold

Arena: Holmes Center (8,325)

Coach: Houston Fancher (128-121 in his ninth season at Appalachian State, 172-162 in his 12th season overall)

2008-09 record: 4-3 (2-0 Southern Conference)

2007-08 record: 18-13 (13-7)

All-time record: 1,087-937 dating to 1919

Last post-season appearance: Lost at Mississippi in first round of 2007 NIT; last NCAA Tournament appearance was in 2000

Series against UK: The teams have never met.

All-time vs. SEC: 2-18 (beat Vanderbilt in 2006 and Arkansas in 2007)

Fun fact: Despite the southeastern border of Kentucky being just 80 miles from Boone, N.C., Appalachian State has faced only three teams from the state and has never played a game in Kentucky. ASU is 3-0 in those games against Berea (1947-48), Pikeville (1991-92) and Union (1931-32).

More about Appalachian State

In the past three years, Appalachian State has beaten Charlotte, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Virginia.

"Quality, quality wins for us," Coach Houston Fancher said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "Funny how those things get swept under the rug when your football team beats Michigan."

Appy State was the toast of the college football world when it won at Michigan in 2007.

Meanwhile, the school's basketball team piled up "quality wins," yet wasn't even the king pin of its league, the Southern Conference.

"Davidson carries the flag," Fancher said.

Led by arguably the country's most compelling player, Stephen Curry, Davidson has lost only one conference game the past two seasons: at home to Appy State.

"We've done some decent things," the Appy State coach said. "And we're still trying to build our consistency because we know that's the only way you're going to get respect."

Appy State (4-3) plays Kentucky on Saturday in Freedom Hall. The quasi-neutral site pleases Fancher, who noted that the Mountaineers beat Arkansas (at Little Rock), Virginia (at San Juan, Puerto Rico) and Vanderbilt (at San Juan) on neutral sites.

"It's not Rupp Arena," said Fancher (rhymes with rancher). "Whether that matters or not, it mattered at Arkansas last year. ... If it's worth three or four points, that's worth three or four points. Maybe it'd be the difference between us getting beat by 30 points rather than 35. But every little bit helps. I'm a bargain hunter. Anything I can do, I'll do."

Fancher, once an assistant for Jan van Breda Kolff at Vanderbilt, has a program built for success on and off the court.

The Mountaineers, picked to finish second (media vote) or third (coaches) in the Southern Conference's North Division this season, have won divisional titles the past two years. The first propelled them to the NIT for the third post-season appearance in the program's history.

The team's Academic Progress Rate since 2003 has been no worse than .972. (The standard programs seek is .925.)

This season marks a transition for Appy State. Seven of the players who contributed to recent victories are playing professionally.

Fancher is trying to refashion a team that has veteran perimeter players and newcomers on the front line. So far, the inexperienced players — led by 6-foot-10, 285-pound Ike Butts — are contributing more efficiently than the experienced guards.

"If I could explain it, I'd explain it to them," Fancher said.

For instance, leading scorers Kellen Brand (12.6 ppg) and Donald Sims (12.0 ppg) struggled in an 89-70 loss to East Tennessee State last weekend.

Sims missed all nine shots he attempted. Brand had only one field goal in three attempts.

"They have a tendency to overanalyze themselves a little too harshly," said Fancher, who also noted a role change for the guards. "All of a sudden, they've been thrust into a leadership role, and they're relied upon. Last year, our inside game carried us. (The guards) have pressed themselves a little too much."

Butts gives Appy State the kind of inside game that's unusual for a mid-major team. He's averaging 11.4 points and 11.4 rebounds. He's also had double-doubles in six of the Mountaineers' seven games.

"We're still the prototypical work in progress," Fancher said. "We play a good half, a bad half, a decent half, a great half. We've yet to put 40 minutes together of what I consider basketball at the level we like to play it."

While seeking to smooth out the edges, the Mountaineers average 80.6 points (30th best in the nation). Appy State also has shot an average of 28 free throws (10th best in the nation).

Fancher works to make his team more efficient in its up-tempo game. Appy State averages 19.9 turnovers, which feeds into the teeth of Kentucky's pressure defense.

"We've not shown the maturity level to play that way," Fancher said of the up-tempo style. "The walk-before-you-run theory has set in on us a little bit.

"We still fancy playing that way in conference. There's no need for us to change for the Kentucky game. We'll just try to get better, if we can."

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