Preview: UK-BAMA

The Cats play host to Alabama on Saturday at Rupp in a key SEC matchup...

LEXINGTON, Ky. --- A scouting report of Saturday's Alabama-Kentucky game at Rupp Arena (8 p.m., ESPN):


No. 8 Kentucky (13-4, 3-2 SEC). Last game: Defeated Auburn 69-62.

No. 14 Alabama (16-3, 4-1 SEC). Last game: Defeated Mississippi State 85-73.

Offense: Kentucky (81.6 ppg, 47 percent FG, 32 percent 3PFG, 65 percent FT); Alabama (80.5 ppg, 46 percent FG, 32 percent 3PFG, 71 percent FT)

Defense: Kentucky (66.9 ppg, 39 percent FG, 30 percent 3PFG); Alabama (65.3 ppg, 39 percent FG, 30 percent 3PFG).

Coaches: Kentucky (Orlando "Tubby" Smith, 5th season, 123-37); Alabama (Mark Gottfried, 4th season, 71-45).

Series: The Wildcats lead 91-32 overall and 48-7 in Lexington. Kentucky has won 11 of the last 13 games. Alabama hasn't won in Rupp Arena since Feb. 18, 1989, a 71-67 triumph over Eddie Sutton's last UK squad.

Last meeting: The Crimson Tide downed the Cats 70-60 on Jan. 23, 2001, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.


UK -- Cliff Hawkins (6-1, 185, Soph., Dumphries, Va.) enters the game seventh in the SEC in assists (4.53 apg) to go along with his 8.0 scoring average. He has displayed flashes of brilliance this season, his first as the Cats' starting point guard, with an ability to break down any defense off the dribble. But he has also battled stretches of foul trouble and questionable decision-making. Since turning the ball over six times in UK's collapse at Mississippi State, Hawkins has been very reliable with 22 assists and 12 turnovers. In his last outing, Hawkins tallied eight points and three assists against Auburn, but fell into early foul trouble and played only 18 minutes. He also hit only four of 10 free throws, dropping his season percentage to a shaky 58 percent. That will have to improve, especially in big matchups with Bama and Florida on the horizon.

"I know I've got to get a lot better there," Hawkins said. "There's no excuse for the way we shot free throws the other night. Coach has had us in the gym shooting a lot of extra ones."

BAMA -- Mo Williams (6-1, 185, Fr., Jackson, Miss.) is the Tide's fourth-leading scorer (10.2 ppg) and is tied for third in the SEC in assists (4.63 apg). His specialties are penetration/transition and scoring around the basket as he has struggled from the perimeter (.384 FG, .260 3PFG). Williams is coming off a career-high 15 points against MSU.


UK -- Gerald Fitch (6-3, 185, Soph., Macon, Ga.) has been called "the heart and soul" of this Kentucky team by coach Tubby Smith. His aggressive defense, relentless rebounding (5.5 rpg) and overall hustle has made him a fan favorite. He's averaging 8.8 points per game and has reached double-figures in eight of the last 11 after getting off to a sluggish start offensively. Fitch is coming off an 11-point effort against Auburn. He figures to draw a tough defensive assignment on Bama gunner Terrance Meade, one of the key matchups in the game.

BAMA -- Terrance Meade (6-2, 190, Jr., Scottsboro, Ala.) was held scoreless in the last game against MSU, but is averaging 11.1 points per game and has a team-high 33 3-point goals on the season. He's shooting 36 percent from long range. Meade had a season-high 19 points in a 70-67 win over Temple, a game in which he drained five 3-pointers.


UK -- Keith Bogans (6-5, 205, Jr., Hyattsville, Md.) has shown signs of emerging from a season-long offensive slump of late.  He tallied 23 points to help lead the Cats to a hard-fought win at Notre Dame, and followed that up with a solid 13-point effort against Auburn. He's shooting only 42 percent from the field and 34 percent from long range this season, but is 13-for-23 and 7-of-13, respectively, in his last two games. He's also a key rebounder for UK, averaging 5.1 per game. The key area to watch in this game, however, is how he fares defensively against a superior athlete and taller player in Rod Grizzard at the 3.

BAMA -- Rod Grizzard (6-8, 200, Jr., Birmingham, Ala.) can be one of the nation's most electrifying players on a given night. He's currently 13th in the SEC in scoring (15.2 pgg) and leads the Tide in that department. He's coming off a 22-point effort against MSU in which he was 7-for-15 from the field and 8-of-9 at the line. Grizzard has generally fared well against the Cats, averaging 22.5 points in two matchups. In last year's game, he had 25 points and 11 rebounds.

"Except for him, we match up pretty well," Smith said. "He's always a priority to contain. His mobility makes him difficult to defend, and he's a guy who wants to take the big shot, kind of like Tayshaun (Prince) does for us."


UK -- Tayshaun Prince (6-9, 215, Sr., Compton, Calif.) is the reigning SEC player of the year and a preseason pick to repeat as All-American. He currently leads the Cats in scoring (16.6 ppg) and ranks sixth in the SEC, but has encountered a number of double-teams and aggressive defensive schemes in recent games which have limited his offensive output. After scoring double figures in 12 of the first 13 games, he's done it only once in the last four. He continues to contribute in other areas, though, dishing out five assists against Notre Dame and grabbing seven boards against Auburn. He leads the Cats in rebounding (6.5 rpg).

"I'm not really frustrated (by opposing defense's new tactics)," Prince said. "They know it's not in their best interest to let me have a breakout game, so what I have to do is create things for other people and make things happen when I have a chance... If you see these guys continue to come around, like Keith and Marquis (Estill), you'll see people change what they're doing to me."

BAMA -- Kenny Walker (6-9, 230, Jr., Jacksonville, Fla.) plays athletic just like his namesake and former UK All-American. He's contributing 9.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and ranks fourth in the league in blocked shots (28, 1.47 bpg). Walker is coming off 16-point, seven-rebound effort against MSU.


UK -- Jules Camara (6-11, 225, Jr., Dakar, Senegal) is clinging ever so slightly to the starting position. Backup Marquis Estill may get the nod against the Tide coming off one of his best efforts of the season at Auburn. Camara ranks second in the league in blocked shots (30, 1.76 bpg), but is contributing little else of late. He's scored just 10 points and grabbed only 13 rebounds in the last four games

BAMA -- Erwin Dudley (6-8, 260, Jr., Uniontown, Ala.) is one of the SEC's top post players, averaging 15.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He has a distinct strength advantage against Camara and probably holds the edge over any other potential UK defender. Dudley is second in the league in rebounding, and will be a challenge to keep off the offensive glass (3.26 orpg). He's coming off a 24-point, 10-rebound effort against MSU.


UK -- The Cats own the advantage over most teams in this area with the ability to bring the 6-9 Estill (10.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.53 bpg), sharpshooter Rashaad Carruth (6.7 ppg, 44 percent 3PFG), and forwards Chuck Hayes (4.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and Erik Daniels (4.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg) off the bench. The UK reserves have accounted for 30.6 points per game this season compared to 19 for Bama.

"Whenever I feel like it," Smith responded when asked at what point Estill deserves to regain his starting position. "Statistics don't mean a thing to me; I want everything else done well. People can say a lot of things about statistics, and it looks good in print, but there's another part of the game that's a lot more important than the scoring. And he needs to continue to improve in that area.

"But I think he probably deserves a start the way he's been playing of late. He's doing the things he has to do to stay on task and stay on focus. I believe in rewarding guys for doing the right thing... We'll make that decision (Saturday) whether he'll start or not, but he's been playing awfully well. The numbers he's been putting up are outstanding. But I evaluate everything --- class attendance, defense, attitude --- and the last one I evaluate, to be honest with you, is statistics."

BAMA -- The top reserves are all guards: Antoine Pettway (5.6 ppg, 56 percent FG, 45 percent 3PFG), Demetrius Smith (3.4 ppg) and Earnest Shelton (5.6 ppg, 38 percent 3PFG). Pettway contributed eight points in the win over MSU. Shelton should be a familiar name to UK fans who watched his recruitment closely the last two years.

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