What's wrong with UK?

Billy Gillispie
Billy Gillispie

Kentucky basketball coach Billy Gillispie gestures to his team during a game in Starkville, Miss., on Tuesday.

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2008 at 12:02 a.m.

Don't tell Kentucky senior guard Ramel Bradley that his team is 7-8 going into Saturday night's showdown with Florida.

"We're 1-1 (in the Southeastern Conference) right now," Bradley said. "That's how we're looking at it. It's a new season."

For a program not used to trumpeting moral victories, Kentucky players and coaches took solace in playing hard following Tuesday night's 69-64 loss at Mississippi State. But then again, this hasn't been a season that's come close to living up to the inflated expectations of Big Blue Nation.

Under first-year coach Billy Gillispie, Kentucky already has suffered embarrassing home losses to Gardner-Webb and Cal-San Diego. Last month, the Wildcats endured their first four-game losing streak since 1990, the year Rick Pitino took over the program, which was reeling from a recruiting scandal that left it on NCAA probation.

Injuries have played a role this season. Guards Derrick Jasper (knee) and Jodie Meeks (hip, pelvis) have been in and out of the lineup. On Tuesday night, Bradley played the full 40 minutes at point guard, which isn't his ideal position. Kentucky ranks 10th in the SEC in assists and 11th in assist-to-turnover ratio.

Chemistry is another issue. There were whispers of some early season tension between Gillispie and senior guard Joe Crawford.

"Coach is only going to be hard on him to make him a better player and a better person," Bradley said. "It's really helping Joe's performance on the court and off the court as well."

Crawford sounded Tuesday like a player that's beginning to buy into his coach's hard-hat style. He believes Kentucky is beginning to forge an identity: "To make ballgames as ugly as possible," Crawford said. "Try to make it as hard as possible for the other team, get them out of their offense, fight inside and just make things as tough as possible."

Yet Kentucky might not have the talent this season to pull it off. Freshman center Patrick Patterson has played as well as advertised in the post, but a walk-on, Mark Coury, starts next to him because sophomore forward Perry Stevenson hasn't developed enough toughness inside.

"It seems like every defense we play, they all collapse on Patrick," Bradley said. "It really makes it tough on him. We can help him out a lot by knocking down outside shots."

Gillispie, who alternated between scowls and encouraging claps from the bench Tuesday night, believes his team is making progress.

"We're competing," Gillispie said. "We're playing harder, but we're still missing assignments, still not doing the little things we need to do to win basketball games."

Kentucky showed signs of progress with a double-overtime home win last Saturday against No. 16 Vanderbilt, its best win of the season.

"We showed a lot of toughness, a lot of heart pulling that game out," Bradley said. "I think we have been trying to do all the things coach wanted us to do, but it just takes time for it to show on the court."

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