LEXINGTON, Ky. --- For those concerned that Keith Bogans' prolonged offensive slump may be having a negative effect on other facets of his game, Tubby Smith offers the following observation:
"He's taking more charges than anyone on the team; things you'd never dream of him doing in the past," the Kentucky coach said of Bogans, known more for offensive firepower than defensive prowess. "He's contributing in a lot of ways that the fans and the 'experts' may not understand."
Nonetheless, comprehending the junior guard's struggles has been no easy task for anyone inside or outside the program.
The All-American candidate remains the biggest mystery of the season to date. After leading the team in scoring last year at 17 points per game, his average has dipped to 12.1 after being held to single digits in four straight games and six of his last eight. His shooting percentage has hovered around the 40 percent mark all season, and his 3-point accuracy has been steady at a disappointing 30 percent.
Both the player and coach are stressing patience as No. 12 Kentucky (11-4, 2-2 SEC) steps out of conference play to face Notre Dame (12-4, 2-2 Big East) on Saturday in South Bend, Ind.
The Cats will need Bogans on top of his game as they face a Fighting Irish squad that features a talented senior frontcourt in Ryan Humphrey (20.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg), David Graves (14.9 pgg) and Harold Swanagan (8.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg), as well as freshman standout Chris Thomas (15.8 ppg, 6.7 apg) at the point and Matt Carroll (11.5 ppg) at the 2 guard.
"Well, we're winning with him struggling," Smith said, "so I think he understands that if he continues to play and do what he can do to make us better --- to make other people better --- he's starting to understand that if he's not scoring he can still do other things."
"I'm not really miserable inside or anything like that," Bogans said. "I'm just taking it as a learning experience and trying to get better in other areas. I'm trying to rebound and defend better, play a better floor game, especially my defense. That's something coach has always been on me about.
"I've just got to stick with it. The moment I give up, that's when it will get ugly."
Bogans said he's received a lot of support from UK fans during his difficult time.
"I get a lot of letters from the fans," he said. "They're staying with me, and my teammates are being real positive. That helps."
"Keith will come around," said senior forward and fellow All-American candidate Tayshaun Prince. "It's just a matter of time. We're trying to keep him pumped up because we know what he can do, and when he does it, this team is going to be really tough to defend."
He's also getting support from his coach, who refuses to make a lineup change despite the offensive decline.
"That means a lot," Bogans said. "Coach knows what I can do. He knows I'm not the type of player to give up, and he's not going to give up on me."
"I'm sure it's probably the toughest thing he's had to go through in his life as far as basketball is concerned,," Smith said. "I know how I would feel -- I'd be miserable. But I think he's handled it pretty well."
Some have questioned whether Bogans' eye on a potential NBA career has hurt him during the 2001-02 season. Last spring, he attended pre-draft camps to evaluate his position among NBA prospects. He did not play up to expectations and withdrew his name from draft consideration shortly thereafter.
He downplayed the notion that he's trying too hard to impress pro scouts.
"No way," Bogans said. "My main thing of coming back here was leading this team to a championship. I've led teams in scoring before, but I've never won a championship. I didn't come back just to score more points and go to the NBA."
That mentality would seem to be backed by the statistics in recent games. Bogans attempted only seven shots from the field in the Cats' wins over South Carolina and Ole Miss.
Smith said teams have also done a better job in scouting and executing defenses against Bogans. Now he must make the counter move.
"After a while, people scout you, and you've got to look for other things," Smith said. "I've looked at it on tape, and lot of it just has to do with him being so anxious and being so aggressive that, even when he penetrates, he's off-balance, he's not (in good position) and it looks like he's trying to do too much.
"But I think there he's starting to understand, when I do penetrate, are there other people open. I don't have to force it. If he does that, he's going to make other people better, because we have other people who can score. He's going to draw a crowd even if he's not scoring points."
"I'm getting a lot more focus on me when I put the ball on the floor," Bogans said. "They're giving a lot more help on me than they have in the past. I've got to pull up (for the jumper) or find one of my teammates open."
Known to make brash predictions during his career and back them up with his play, this time Bogans said he won't be proclaiming his slump over until it happens on the court.
"I'm sure it will happen, but I'm not going to speak and try to predict anything," he said. "I'm just going to let it happen."
He also ruled out superstition, good-luck charms or change in his normal routine: "Nah. I don't believe in anything like that. I just go day by day."