Point of attack

Beating a basketball team is like breaking a chain: First, you pinpoint its weakest link. And the weakest link for the Kentucky basketball team that visits Thompson-Boling Arena tonight at 9, without a doubt, is point guard.

Junior starter Michael Porter has almost as many turnovers (35) as assists (46). Freshman backup DeAndre Liggins is even more lax with the ball, as evidenced by 57 assists and 52 turnovers. Liggins had six turnovers in just 23 minutes vs. Indiana Dec. 13. He and Porter combined for nine turnovers vs. Central Michigan on Christmas eve.

The two aren't exactly distinguishing themselves as shooters, either. Porter is hitting 33 percent overall and 27 percent from 3. Liggins is hitting 44.2 overall but an icy 16.7 percent (5 of 30) from beyond the arc.

No doubt Tennessee (10-4 overall, 1-0 SEC) will try to exert more defensive pressure than usual tonight in an effort to rattle Porter and Liggins. For Kentucky (12-4 overall, 1-0 SEC), point-guard play is definitely the team's Achilles heel.

"It's improving (but) it's not the strength of their team," Vol head man Bruce Pearl said this week. "Both Liggins and Porter are playing better, particularly the way they're handling the ball. Kentucky's not turning it over like they were earlier in the season."

That isn't saying a whole lot. The Wildcats had 31 turnovers (compared to just 12 assists) Nov. 28 vs. Kansas State but still won the game 74-72. They've settled down a bit since then but still rank dead last among the 12 SEC teams in turnovers (18.1 per game) and turnover margin (minus 2.13 per game).

In addition to the two point guards, Kentucky wing Jodie Meeks is prone to turnovers. He has committed 47 to date, an exceptionally high number for a non-point guard. He had nine in the Kansas State game and three in the first two minutes Jan. 4 at Louisville.

Although Tennessee's full-court pressure is not up to the level of Pearl's previous three teams, the Vols have the size and athleticism to pose some problems for Kentucky.

"They really compete hard," UK coach Billy Gillispie said this week. "That is the thing about them is that they put a lot of pressure on you whether it be in the front or back court. No defense is very good if you don't compete, and they really do compete hard."

Kentucky's coach went on to note that Tennessee's defense is similar to what Kentucky faced against North Carolina and Louisville except that the Vols are "probably the deepest, (most) athletic and long team that we have played. Their pressure can really ratchet it up on you."

Given UK's tendency to turn the ball over, it's a safe bet the Vols will "ratchet it up" tonight to see how the Wildcats handle the pressure.

"We have to get better at it," Gillispie said, "and we are getting better at it every day. We have to continue to improve because we are going to have plenty of opportunities to improve in the future."

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