UK Men's Basketball

Providence could be at less than full strength for game at Kentucky

Providence's LaDontae Henton, right, drove against Notre Dame's Jerian Grant during Providence's 75-74 victory last Sunday. The Friars bring a 6-0 record into Rupp.
Providence's LaDontae Henton, right, drove against Notre Dame's Jerian Grant during Providence's 75-74 victory last Sunday. The Friars bring a 6-0 record into Rupp. AP

A question about "fear" seemed to capture Providence Coach Ed Cooley's attention.

"I don't think it's a fear factor," he said when reminded of how No. 1 Kentucky has overwhelmed the opposition so far this season. "The game of basketball is played between the lines. Not in the book. They have a very talented team. They have a very good team. But, you know, you've got to play the game. I don't think anyone is fearful. There are concerns with some matchups. But the term 'fear,' you've got to play the game. That's why you schedule it.

"So anything's possible."

Kentucky, which has won by an average margin of 36.8 points and flirted with or made history every game, plays Providence on Sunday afternoon. Cooley acknowledged that Kentucky's stated goal of doing something historic this season is possible.

"Historic?" he said repeating the question. "Could be. They have to continue to stay disciplined and focused. But what they've done so far has been pretty nice to see."

Nice could describe Providence's start to the season. The Friars bring a 6-0 record into Rupp Arena. In the last four games, Cooley's team has shot with better than 50-percent accuracy, which the coach linked to fundamentals of offense.

"Good ball movement," he said. "Guys understanding their roles. Players getting comfortable in their roles. Having a decent understanding of what we're trying to do and where we're trying to go with the ball. And being patient and taking what the defense gives us."

Of course, Kentucky's defense has been downright miserly. Opponents have made only 27.9 percent of their shots. No opponent has shot with even 40-percent accuracy. Two — then-No. 5 Kansas and Montana State — made less than 20 percent of their shots.

Cooley noted UK's size, athleticism, speed and toughness.

"If you're going to try to race up the floor on them every single time, I think you have to be incredibly opportunistic with your transition baskets because they can chase you down and block your shots," the Providence coach said. "You just have to be very disciplined in your offense, and make sure you take away their easy baskets."

Providence beat Yale 72-66 Friday despite playing without two regulars: point guard Kris Dunn and freshman wing Jalen Lindsey. Both sat out the game because of what Cooley called "severe" ankle sprains. Each is very questionable to play against Kentucky, he said.

Dunn, a McDonald's All-American, has undergone two shoulder surgeries in an injury-plagued career.

Forward LaDontae Henton leads the Friars. With 1,536 points and 867 rebounds, he has a chance to finish his career beyond the 2,000-point and 1,000-rebound marks.

"He's a blue-collar guy," Cooley said. "He's one of those guys you learn to appreciate because he doesn't do anything great. He does a lot of things well, and that's led him to be a very, very good player."

Henton, at 6-foot-6, must deal with Kentucky's immense size. Cooley suggested an early-season game is no time to spring surprises.

"In these kind of games, you've got to do what you do," he said. "They're going to do what they do. ... Worry about yourselves, and let the game play out the way it's supposed to play out."

'Extremely spoiled'

Cooley suggested that UK fans don't fully appreciate Coach John Calipari.

"(Calipari) has done an amazing job with the expectations at Kentucky," he said. "I think you guys are extremely spoiled with what Cal has brought to you guys. I don't think people appreciate him enough."

When asked if this lack of appreciation was typical of sports fans in general, Cooley said with a chuckle, "I think that's typical of Kentucky. I think that's typical of you guys expecting to win national championships year in and year out. You know, to win those championships is really, really hard."

On Friday, Calipari saluted Cooley as "the kind of coach I respect. That's at a tough place, yet he does it. Stuff happens and he still does it. I don't need to see white-shoe guys where everything is going great."

Etc.

■ Willie Cauley-Stein came close to a triple-double against Providence last season: 15 points, eight rebounds, nine blocks.

■ Providence has a 2-11 record against No. 1 teams.

■ David Fleming and Fran Fraschilla will call the game for ESPN2.

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