UK Men's Basketball

Cats must prove they can pass road test

Hit me with your best shot so I can gain the most from the experience.

That was sort of the message Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie had for Louisville on the eve of this season's Dream Game.

At a Saturday news conference, Gillispie dismissed the notion of Louisville playing well because the Cardinals lost their last game (and two of the three most recent games). Nor did the UK coach warm to the idea that aggressive defense, like the kind played by Minnesota and Western Kentucky in earlier victories over U of L, is the ticket to Kentucky's success on Sunday in Freedom Hall.

"Louisville was just having one of those deals where they didn't shoot it very well," Gillispie said of U of L's losses to Minnesota and Western Kentucky. "We'll see their best tomorrow. That's what we want to see and that's what we'll definitely see.

"And that's what will make us get better."

Gillispie spoke often of Kentucky's improvement since the season began and the need for further improvement in the next three months.

More than once, Gillispie spoke of Louisville's experience and Kentucky's inexperience.

Kentucky has just one game of experience playing on an opponent's home floor: a 77-58 loss at No. 1 North Carolina on Nov. 18 that wasn't even that close. The Tar Heels exploded to leads of 15-2 and 25-6 before the game's one-sided nature dulled the senses.

"We have to make a major step forward," Gillispie said. "The last time on the road, we didn't handle it very well. We had a horrific start. We can't do that again against another really good team."

Gillispie expressed confidence that Kentucky has grown considerably since that second game of the season.

"We have guys who are emerging, who are growing up," he said, "doing much better as far as understanding what their expectations should be on every possession."

Yet, Gillispie added a moment later, "The most scary part about an inexperienced team is taking them on the road. I look forward to the challenge, but I don't have all the answers. Our next five of seven are on the road. We better get pretty good at it in a big hurry."

At North Carolina, Kentucky turned over the ball 28 times and got outscored 26-6 in points off turnovers.

"Good practices" give him faith that Kentucky can handle Louisville's signature pressure, Gillispie said before noting how well the Cards attack defensively. "They do a real smart job pressuring and not giving up much on the other end," the UK coach said. "That's the most important thing. They create some turnovers, but they don't give up much once you beat the pressure."

More than once, Gillispie referred to Louisville's No. 3 pre-season ranking. Left unsaid was the Cards' decline to No. 18 in last week's poll. After a loss to unranked UNLV on Wednesday, Louisville might be facing exile from the top 25 should it lose to Kentucky.

Gillispie noted Louisville's balanced attack: three double-digit scoring averages and seven players who have made six or more three-point shots (as opposed to two UK players).

"They can always put five guys out there you have to guard," the UK coach said. "That sounds simple. But not too many teams do that. They do a really good job spreading the floor and getting the ball where they want it."

As for Louisville's defensive pressure, Kentucky has faced several opponents who attacked its re-fashioned backcourt with pressure: VMI, North Carolina, Kansas State and West Virginia, to name four.

"I'm sure there will be times we'll have to question our composure a little bit," Gillispie said. "That's something you think about. ... We'll have to do a good job maintaining our composure, understanding — no matter the situation — where our bread is buttered. That we need to get Pat shots. And Pat needs to get touches even if he can't shoot it."

"Pat" is UK's All-America candidate, Patrick Patterson.

Louisville Coach Rick Pitino is noted for collapsing defenders around low-post threats, perhaps most famously when he was at Kentucky and played Tim Duncan and Wake Forest in the 1996 NCAA Tournament. Duncan got off only seven shots, made two and scored 14 inconsequential points as UK won 83-63.

Gillispie took solace in Patterson's 10 first-half shots against Louisville last season.

"If we get 10 shots in the first half, I'll feel pretty good about it," Gillispie said. "... Pat missed some shots he normally makes."

Patterson made only two of those 10 shots en route to a 3-for-14, six-point game (second-lowest point total of his career). Patterson also committed a career-high six turnovers against the Cards.

Gillispie expects Patterson and leading scorer Jodie Meeks to command Louisville's defensive attention.

"If I was playing us, I'd definitely try to take Pat and Jodie away," he said. "I think that's what everyone will do. We'll have to be good in other spots."