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Going to get much tougher for better UK men

Going to get much tougher for better UK men

Posted: Monday, December 29, 2008 5:47 pm
By: By JEFFREY MCMURRAY, Associated Press Writer

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — From a shocking loss to VMI to a gut-wrenching win over Florida Atlantic and all the blowouts in between, Kentucky’s non-conference schedule has offered a little bit of everything.
But, any way you measure it, year two of the Billy Gillispie era has undoubtedly started far more smoothly than year one did.
Kentucky (10-3) has just one more low-profile tuneup tonight against Central Michigan before the stakes get considerably higher.
January begins with a date with arch rival Louisville, then the slate of Southeastern Conference games.
A three-loss start may not be anything to celebrate for college basketball’s all-time winningest program, but compared to last year, the players will gladly take it.
At this time then, Kentucky was sitting at 5-6.
Among its losses were three clunkers — to Gardner-Webb, Houston and San Diego. And, a return to the NCAA Tournament was looking borderline impossible.
After starting this season with back-to-back losses against VMI and North Carolina, the Wildcats could have followed the same script.
Instead, they’ve won 10 of their last 11 — most of them in dominating fashion.
“I don’t know if we were really worried about it very much,” Kentucky forward Perry Stevenson said. “That is why we are in the situation we are in now, because we didn’t worry about it. We just knew that we were going to have other opportunities to play other games, and we tried to make the best out of them.”
Before squeaking by Florida Atlantic 76-69 Saturday, the Wildcats had dominated for four straight games, averaging 89 points.
Considering the schedule that looms, a second-half fight from the clearly outmatched Owls may have been just what Kentucky needed.
“We were not in a stressful situation during our last couple of games,” Gillispie said afterward. “Today we got ourselves in a little stressful situation and it could not have gone better, if you ask me.”
Often times this season, Gillispie has promised that the team would turn out to be exceptionally good.
After the victory over the Owls, he even sounded more upbeat about the effort than many of his players.
“It was good to be pushed, but when you can finish a team off, you want to do that,” guard Landon Slone said.
Kentucky seasons aren’t evaluated in the non-conference part of the schedule, but the Wildcats appear to have a recipe for potential success down the stretch, which they achieved last year in keeping their NCAA streak alive.
Jodie Meeks has been on a tear, leading the SEC in scoring. Patrick Patterson boasts the conference’s best shooting percentage.
And an extremely deep bench has provided an effective supporting cast.
Whether those skills can translate into success in the part of the schedule that truly matters remains to be seen.
“When it comes to the conference, it’s going to be tough the whole game,” point guard Michael Porter said. “We’re not going to be able to put teams away at the beginning the way we have been.”

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