UK chooses ball-line defense

By Janet Graham, Post staff reporter

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Last season when the University of Kentucky defense was working, it was a trapping, harassing thing of beauty.

Against the spectacular dribble penetration of teams such as South Carolina and Arizona, it was a sieve.

This season, under head coach Tubby Smith, the Wildcats have reined in the chance-taking with his ''ball-line defense.'' And they hope it will improve their results against South Carolina, against which UK went 0-2 a season ago. Smith, while coaching Georgia last season, went 2-1 against South Carolina.

Tonight at 9:30 at Rupp Arena, sixth-ranked UK (14-2, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) gets its first opportunity against the No. 14 Gamecocks (10-2, 2-1).

Not only is it the most important SEC game so far, it will be the teams' first meeting since South Carolina gave UK its first Senior Day loss since 1964.

In both games last season South Carolina's three-guard defense was a nightmare for UK. In Columbia, S.C., Larry Davis, BJ McKie and Melvin Watson combined for 50 points in an 84-79 win. A month later in Rupp Arena, Davis, McKie and Watson had 51 in South Carolina's 72-66 win.

Most of those points came as the quick South Carolina guards shredded the UK press and either drove to the basket, pulled up for a jump shot or teased the Wildcats into fouling them.

Smith's ball-line defense, while conservative, works on both left and right wings. Although he wasn't here last year, freshman point guard Saul Smith learned it Eddie Fogler

from his father.

''Ball-line consists of whoever isn't playing on the ball, you've got to get to the midline of the court, as if there's an imaginary line there,'' said Saul Smith. ''You get there and you're in help position so just in case he gets beat you can stop (the opponent) and you can stop your man out on the wing. It's like playing two people at one time and it's definitely going to help us when (the Gamecocks) come in here.''

Both teams have changed personnel since last season. South Carolina lost the consistent outside shooting of Davis; UK lost the athleticism of the wing play from Ron Mercer and Derek Anderson.

''We're still a guard-oriented team,'' said South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler, who has the most wins over UK (six) of any coach in the SEC. ''But we have struggled in that (third guard) position without Larry Davis. We just have not shot well outside consistently and we need to get some baskets from there.''

Sophomore Herbert Lee Davis may be just the player to do that. He's averaging 4.6 points and two rebounds per game and has made six of his last 15 three-point shots after missing his first 14. And he's coming off his best game of the season, a 10-point performance against Louisiana State.

McKie and Watson concern UK the most. McKie (16.8 points average) scored 32 against South Carolina State. Watson is working his way back from a sprained knee ligament Dec. 23, but averages 12.7 points, 3.6 assists and 2.3 steals per game.

''Watson is, like, fast-quick,'' said UK senior forward Allen Edwards. ''He's probably the fastest guard I've ever seen.''

Tubby Smith said he chose not to take a chance and press South Carolina much when he was at Georgia.

''We've never really extended our defense as much as Rick (Pitino),'' Smith said. ''He liked to trap more in the front court. But I wouldn't say we're not going to take chances. We need to pick up the tempo and establish our game. We have to contain better and make people shoot over us. We did an adequate job against Mississippi State but we have to do bet ter.''

The Gamecocks, preseason pick to win the league title, are not awed by Rupp Arena.

''They're not looking at it as some impenetrable object or something they can't overcome,'' said UK senior guard Cameron Mills. ''I think they're coming in here saying we beat them here once, we can beat them here again. But we have to look at the fact that this isn't last year. We don't have the same team and neither do they.''

Publication date: 01-13-98

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