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Caged Heat: Kentucky presses into Maui

It is perhaps the biggest gripe UK'n basketball faithful have had about Tubby Smith's tenure -- the pace is just too slow. Call it hangover from the 'Run 'n Slap' defensive days of Rick Pitino's teams or just the desire to see the Wildcats force the action more, but pressure is what gets the fans excited, and judging from the postgame team comments, gets the players juiced as well.

On Friday night, Kentucky pressed its outgunned patsy of an opponent, Mississippi Valley State, from the get-go and the result was a thoroughly pleasing 79-56 drubbing of the Delta Devils.

The upgraded pressure helped force overmanned MVSU into 21 turnovers and under 40% shooting, the benchmark for defensive success.

Fine offensive showings from the maligned point man Ramel Bradley (5-of-7 from three) and instant offense off the bench Jodie Meeks (13 points) only further creased the weathered cheeks of Big Blue Nation.

No one knows, of course, if Smith will continue to use the press. You'd have to assume it will have more to do with who the team is playing and what strategy looks most effective. Would a pressure game work against the young athletes of Georgia Tech, including hot shot freshman point guard Javaris Crittenden? Maybe not as well as against Depaul's shakier backcourt.

Regardless, given the scattershot nature of the UK shooting percentages, pushing the tempo gives the boys in Blue a much better chance of getting a few easy buckets, and it keeps the offense from stagnating.

As I noted last night, it's hard to find much fault with the Cats' Friday performance -- perhaps that they let off the gas a little, but c'mon -- and the trip to Maui should now be a positive one, with enthusiasm and energy heading into Game 1 against Depaul.

We've seen Tubby Smith turn the press off at the first sign of trouble before, so here's hoping he decides to see how this group of Wildcats responds to the increased pace before resorting to a half-court game plan.

Extra Time

  • The UK registrar has cleared Alaksan sensation Ramon 'Razor' Harris to join the Cats for the second semester. Harris has reportedly been in Lexington since late last week and should begin practicing with them immediately. The first game Harris would be eleigible to play would be the Louisville game.
  • The Maysville local paper chimes in with a defense of Tubby Smith in today's edition.