Kentucky, Auburn Both Short on Players Entering SEC Matchup

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Auburn coach Jeff Lebo can empathize with Kentucky's injury problems this season.

Sympathy, however, is in short supply for Lebo, whose team enters Wednesday night's visit with the Wildcats shorter on both players and Southeastern Conference wins.

"Their short-handed is usually different from Auburn's short-handed," he said. "They are a different basketball team."

The Wildcats (10-9, 4-2) have certainly been headed in a different direction. They have won three straight SEC games, including an upset of No. 7 Tennessee.

The Tigers (12-8, 2-5) have dropped three in a row, and have enjoyed little success against Kentucky. The Wildcats have won the last eight meetings and 22 of the last 23.

The last Auburn win in the series came in 2000.

Guard Ramel Bradley sustained a concussion in Saturday's win at Georgia, and had a viral infection last week. Coach Billy Gillispie said Tuesday Bradley's status was uncertain for Wednesday night's game.

He said guard Jodie Meeks is doubtful with a hip injury that sidelined him for the Georgia win. No. 2 scorer Joe Crawford sat out the end of the game with severe cramps and had a foot injury last week.

He still managed a career-high 26 points in a win that pushed Kentucky over .500 for the first time since Dec. 15.

"Joe (Crawford) looks like his feet aren't bothering him, but I'm sure they are and he's just playing through it," Gillispie said. "We won't know until game-time comes about cramping and those sorts of things.

"I assume he'll have some of those until he gets himself into fantastic condition like he was a couple of weeks ago."

Auburn isn't in any better shape, with only seven healthy scholarship players and three post players reduced to spectator roles. That leaves a smaller team full of quick guys and outside shooters that Gillispie thinks can present matchup problems.

The potential absence of Bradley could make the matchups tougher.

"He's been playing as well as anyone," Gillispie said. "No matter what position, I think you need to have all your people available, especially when you go on the road.

"We're going to be facing a very hungry team, a very athletic team. It's going to be difficult to guard no matter how many players you have and what position they play. We definitely need Ramel."

The Tigers have struggled defensively over the last month. Opponents have shot 49 percent in the last nine games and 42 percent from 3-point range.

Offensively, their reliance on 3s has led to hot and cold performances. Rasheem Barrett missed all nine of his shots in a loss at Vanderbilt and was held scoreless.

Frank Tolbert, meanwhile, had a career-high 32 -- 20 more than the previous game against LSU.

"They're very difficult to guard because of their ability to shoot the ball," Gillispie said. "They can all drive and they really play well together, so that makes it difficult on the penetrate-and-pitch stuff."

Lebo has been impressed by Kentucky freshman forward Patrick Patterson, who he said is "as good as any freshman in the country inside." Patterson is averaging 17.1 points and 7.9 rebounds. Stats aside, Lebo also praised Patterson's perseverance away from the ball, which he said is rare for young players.

"He's aggressive as a freshman, and he really works without the ball," Lebo said. "He is always working to get that thing."

Lebo isn't sure exactly which other players will be on the court for Kentucky with the injuries.

Whoever's out, he said, "They still have weapons."

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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