UAB Game pivotal for Kentucky

The Kentucky Wildcats (4-3) face the UAB Blazers (7-4) in a 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon contest in Freedom Hall (Louisville). Coaches and players always say you don't look ahead, and play the games one at a time. In that vein, this game could be the biggest one of the season for the Kentucky Wildcats.

Should Kentucky emerge with a win, the Cats would move to 5-3. With a road game at Houston, followed by three games against weaker opponents, UK could be sporting a 9-3 mark headed into the new year to face in-state rival Louisville, and then head to the SEC schedule.

Lose the game, however, at UK would fall to .500 on the season, and risk falling under the break-even mark next week with the road game against Houston. Even with three lesser opponents following, with in-state rival Louisville looming on the horizon, followed immediately with a date against currently undefeated Vanderbilt, and it is entirely conceivable that the Wildcats could be 7-7 midway through the season.

Kentucky will welcome an old face in coach Mike Davis, with a new team, in the UAB Blazers to Freedom Hall. The Blazers lead Conference USA in field goal shooting (49%), three-point shooting (39.7%), scoring defense (62.5 ppg) and three-point shooting defense (25.6%). Despite that, the Blazers have dropped four games on the season--each time failing to shoot 50% from the field. Seven times the Blazers have hit 50% or better, and each time UAB has emerged victorious.

"(UAB is) very, very long and experienced," Kentucky head coach Billy Gillispie said. "They can really score. They have two to three guys that can really score. That does present a lot of difficulty, especially the way we've handled the ball. When they're on defense they do a really good job of standing between you and the basket and using their height and length. That's definitely a concern because we haven't passed it very well.

One key to the game will be Kentucky's ability to defend inside and outside.

"Defensively, it does put some pressure on some guys because you have a 6'9" guy that can step out behind the arc," Gillispie explained. "They've got two of them that can play out beyond the arc. If you crowd them they can get the ball to the basket with the dribble. They have dribble moves and they are difficult to guard. They're very efficient and consistent with their scoring. Their guys are always going to put up numbers like they have in the first 11 games, so it's going to be difficult."

Key players to watch for the UAB Blazers include Junior guard/forward Robert Vaden, who transferred from Davis' former Indiana team. Vaden leads the Blazers in scoring at 18.5 ppg. Another transfer, Walter Sharpe (Mississippi State), is second on the team in scoring. Sharpe, a 6'9 power forward, averages 14.0 ppg. Sharpe also leads the team in rebounding at 7.4 rebounds per outing.

From the perimeter, the Cats must watch for sharpshooting forward Lawrence Kinnard, who leads Conference USA with a blistering 47.5% from three point distance.

The series between Kentucky and UAB is tied at two games each. They last faced each other in the 2004 NCAA tournament, where the 8th seeded Blazers upset the # 1 Kentucky Wildcats, 76-75.

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