Home not so sweet for some this season
Published: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 12:29 a.m.
Home is supposed to be where the calls come, where the crowd support carries you and where the elite teams find ways to win even when they don't play their best games.
But a home win has not been automatic for Southeastern Conference basketball teams so far this season. Kentucky had its 21-game conference winning streak broken at Rupp Arena, against rebuilding Georgia of all teams.
SEC teams finished Wednesday with a .423 percentage on the road in conference games, up from the last year's .344 percent finish. .304 that conference teams finished against one another in road games last year.
"It's a trend because the teams in the league are so balanced," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "Homecourt in this league can be a great advantage because of the crowd support, but because teams are so balanced, they can go out and win on any given night. So I do see more losses coming on homecourts."
Seven different conference teams have already won away from home. Mississippi State won at LSU last Saturday, then won at Florida for the first time since the 1995-96 season on Wednesday.
South Carolina is a surprise 16-2 because of early conference road wins at Auburn and Georgia.
"You have to take a look at the teams that are doing it," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "Mississippi State might be one of the best teams in the league, Kentucky is winning on the road, Florida did it to us, and they're a premier team.
"But the youth also probably has a lot to do with it. I think it was pretty well accepted that this was a young SEC because of all the starters teams lost, and maybe younger players don't protect the homecourt the way older teams do."
Ole Miss, traditionally one of the stronger home teams in the SEC, was able to hold serve on its court with a 53-49 win Wednesday night over LSU. But the Rebels lost their home opener to Mississippi State earlier this month.
"A lot of it has to do with teams in transition," Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes said. "I think it's something you'll probably see the next couple of weeks, and then as teams get experience, they'll do better at home."
Alabama, LSU and Georgia also have won on the road this season.
Roberts is not the only Baylor transfer who is flourishing. Another Baylor transfer who came close to joining an SEC school is now making an impact at a different school in a different conference.
John Lucas IIIJr., son of former NBA point guard and coach John Lucas, talked with Georgia when he decided to leave troubled Baylor after the death of teammate Patrick Dennehy and resignation of coach Dave Bliss.
Instead, Lucas opted to transfer to the Big 12 and Oklahoma State, where he iscame into Friday averaging 12.5 points and 5.1 assists as the starting point guard for the Cowboys.
Georgia coach Dennis Felton said he strongly considered Lucas, but it came down to not having enough time to evaluate his background as both a player and a person.
"The timing of it was tough because I didn't get to know John personally," Felton said. "I was just as concerned with the right people, the right fit, as I was with the ability of the play. It never quite reached that comfort level."
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury had no such issues in signing Roberts.
"I'm sure I could have spent more time talking with mommas and poppas, but at that point, with Mario Austin gone, we were desperate for a big man," Stansbury said. "We checked into his character a bit, we knew he came from a good family, but we probably didn't do it as extensively as Dennis did."
Meanwhile, other younger players had their noses in books, taking advantage of the team's current six-day break to study.
"If there was a time to have an off day, this was it," Odom said.
South Carolina broke intoentered the poll at No. 25 this week. Its only two losses have come on the road at Temple and at home against Florida.
"Our team has done a good job staying grounded," Odom said. "I don't suspect any overconfidence. If I detect anything to the contrary, it will be dealt with in practice."
At 3-1, South Carolina is tied with Kentucky atop the SEC East. The Gamecocks are doing it with a swarming, trapping style that makes up for their shooting deficiencies.
"Dave is doing it was the same players everyone in the media said was no good last year," said LSU coach John Brady, whose team plays against South Carolina on Saturday. "He's found a style that's working for them."
You can reach Kevin Brockway by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 374-5054.
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