Wildcats Looking For Consistency in Las Vegas

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Billy Gillispie had barely sat down during Kentucky's media day last month when someone asked the second-year coach who was going to play point guard for the Wildcats.

Gillispie shrugged his shoulders and replied "good question."

Six weeks later, he's still waiting for an answer.

Kentucky (2-2) heads to Las Vegas for the final two rounds of the Las Vegas Invitational this weekend looking for some consistency out of guards Michael Porter and DeAndre Liggins. The duo have the unenviable task of trying to replace former star Ramel Bradley, who graduated, and the steady Derrick Jasper, who transferred to UNLV.

Four games into the season, results have been mixed. Porter and Liggins have combined for 27 assists and 26 turnovers, not exactly the kind of assist to turnover ratio that can endear you to coaches. Yet Gillispie remains upbeat, particularly about the way his players have responded after losses to VMI and North Carolina to start the season.

"We are much better now than we were 10 days ago," Gillispie said after the Wildcats beat Longwood 91-57 on Monday. "We are improving leaps and bounds on a daily basis. We will have some setbacks because teams will do different things defensively. It is a very tough position but we are getting better all the time."

The Wildcats will need to be better on Friday against Kansas State, who is off to a 5-0 start, albeit against relatively tame competition. Kansas State is forcing opponents into nearly 20 turnovers a game, not exactly a good sign for Kentucky, which giving it away 21 times a contest.

Some of the miscues, Gillispie said, have less to do with defensive pressure and more to do with maturity. The Wildcats don't have a senior in their player rotation while Liggins and fellow freshman Darius Miller have been getting a relatively heavy workload. Porter, a junior, is averaging a career-high 19 minutes a game and is trying to prove to Gillispie he can make good decisions at both ends of the floor.

Though Gillispie is staying patient, he won't hesitate to use the bench as motivation. When Porter missed a pass thrown by Miller 34 seconds into the game against Longwood, Gillispie briefly took Porter off the floor. Porter returned a couple of minutes later and finished with a modest stat line of two points, two assists and just one turnover.

"We're starting to play a little smarter," Gillispie said. "We have to eliminate the dumb mistakes, but that's inexperience sometimes, trying too hard sometimes."

Youthful mistakes are to be expected on such a young team. Liggins, whose 6-foot-6 frame gives him a distinct size advantage over most point guards, is still learning the offense and has a tendency to dribble the ball a little too high, giving opponents a chance to swipe at it.

Liggins turned it over four times against Longwood, though that's not as troubling as his potential problems at the foul line. Liggins missed all three of his free throws against the Lancers, and he won't see the floor in crunch time if his free-throw shooting becomes a liability.

"The biggest thing is if you've got a point guard that is going to be 0-3 from the foul line you can't play him the last five minutes of the game," Gillispie said. "That's the biggest concern I have. He has to do a better job of playing with his teammates. He's not a selfish player, it's just a learning situation for a guy. The turnovers he had in the first half, he was trying to make a play and he doesn't always have to make a play."

Liggins' athleticism, however, has already won over some of his teammates.

"I've been telling him he'd have his ups and downs in the game and that it's a learning process," said guard Jodie Meeks. "I see him improving overall. He's a freshman and he'll have his ups and his downs."

So are the Wildcats. Gillispie stressed that how they perform this weekend won't dictate how the season goes, but allows it would be encouraging to see his team play a little tougher against quality competition.

"We are going to have some hiccups along the way because things cannot change overnight," Gillispie said. "We have a greater awareness of what we need to be trying to do. We are starting to show a little bit more composure."

A little composure could go a long way in Las Vegas. If a couple of supporting players can emerge around stars Meeks and Patrick Patterson, the Wildcats know they have the potential to beat the odds in Sin City and come away with a pair of momentum-boosting wins.

"We're a work in progress," Gillispie said. "Every team in America is right now. I don't care if you're 4-0, 0-4, 2-2. It's an extremely long season. You really start finding out how good you are and what you can become after you start playing games."

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


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