UK Men's Basketball

Consistent attack evading Tenn. St.

A guard who aspires to emulate Chris Paul and/or Stephen Curry.

A forward who began his college career at Mississippi State.

A cousin of Lawrence Funderburke, the prospect whose recruitment helped lead Kentucky down the path to NCAA sanctions in the 1980s.

A team that hopes to improve off a competitive nine-point loss at Alabama.

That's Tennessee State, which plays Kentucky on Monday night in Rupp Arena.

The guard is Gerald Robinson, a 6-foot sophomore from Nashville. He leads the Tigers in scoring (18.7 ppg) while trying to meet Coach Cy Alexander's challenge to play like stars in the NBA (Paul) or college (Curry).

"He's slight of build like Stephen Curry," Alexander said last week. "He's quick like Chris Paul.

"In some games you see him come close to meeting that challenge, and some games you see how he has a ways to go."

Alexander noted that Robinson narrowed his college choice to Georgia, George Mason and Tennessee State, which suggests high-level ability.

Robinson needs to maintain a steady, consistent concentration on the task at hand, said the coach.

The forward is Jerrell Houston, who transferred from Mississippi State. He's averaging 14.6 points. "Very much an SEC athlete," Alexander said.

The cousin is Lonnie Funderburke, a 6-7 junior college transfer who's adjusting to Division I basketball.

"Still a little raw offensively," Alexander said. "He's a good athlete, but you wouldn't know it because he looks lost out there.'

That description might fit Tennessee State. The Tigers wowed the Ohio Valley Conference last spring by adopting mohawk haircuts to signal a new start for the post-season and then advancing to the conference tournament finals.

Any chance of building off that momentum evaporated with only four players returning. Alexander is trying to weave in eight newcomers "who really don't understand what Division I college basketball is about," the coach said. "And it's showing."

The Tigers play well in stretches, then slip through periods of games. That inconsistency contributed to a 75-66 loss at Alabama on Wednesday.

Alexander lamented the failure to close out on perimeter shooters with hands held high to contest a potential shot. That happened on three straight possessions, and Alabama hit three straight shots to build a cushion.

"That tells me they don't know this is high-major, Division I basketball you're competing against," Alexander said. "You have to do everything the right way. Not once every three times. Not once every four times. Every time."

Of course, Kentucky presents another high-major challenge for Tennessee State. Alexander voiced concern with UK's strength.

"I don't know if Kentucky is as athletic as Alabama," he said, "but Kentucky is bigger and just more physical than Alabama."

And Tennessee State?"We're not," Alexander said. "And that's the thing that concerns me. We're not a physically tough team. We have good athletes. But we're not physical."

Alexander set three goals for his team against Kentucky:

■ Better blocking out on rebounds. Alabama had 22 second-chance points.

■ Playing with a greater sense of urgency on each and every possession.

■ Getting a good shot rather than settling for a quick attempt. "You're not going to make every shot," the coach said, "but let's at least get a shot we want and live with that."

Those goals will be on Alexander's mind as Tennessee State plays Kentucky.

"If we can correct those three things against Kentucky, that's growth," he said, "win, lose or draw."

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