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January 21, 2013

Cats travel to Alabama for 'guard's game' Tuesday

Alabama has mixed and matched its starting lineups all season, playing nine different combinations in 17 games.

But the common thread through all of them: They're guard-oriented.

That won't change when Kentucky (12-5, 3-1 SEC) plays at Alabama (11-6, 3-1 SEC) Tuesday at 9 p.m.

"This is a guard's game," coach John Calipari said. "This is going to be guards going at one another."

The Crimson Tide are led by three guards, each averaging more than 10 points per game (Trevor Releford, Trevor Lacey and Rodney Cooper), with two others averaging at least 18 minutes per game (Levi Randolph and Andrew Steele).

"The reality of it is, their guards are the driving force with their team," Calipari said.

To match them, Kentucky will need its own rotation of guards to play well.

Calipari said his guards showed progress against Auburn. Archie Goodwin "played the best game he's played all year" against the Tigers, Calipari said, and Ryan Harrow responded to the physical play in the second half.

He'll need his backcourt to do the same against the Crimson Tide.

"Those two and Julius (Mays) are going to have to do that in this game," Calipari said.

Alabama's accustomed to a small lineup. Their most recent starting five featured a center and four guards.

"Well, for most of the games that we play in conference play we're undersized," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said, "so I think for us it's just about making sure that we bring a competitiveness to the court, to try to match the size and the speed and the physicality they can put on the court as well."

Kentucky may be forced to go with a small lineup of its own if freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein is out for the second straight game.

Calipari said Cauley-Stein's status would depend on whether or not he practiced on Monday afternoon.

"I guess they're going to play small and we'll have to play small sometimes," UK guard Jarrod Polson said. "Or we can use it to our advantage being bigger than them, but either way I think we might have an advantage at that."

Even though the game will revolve around the guards, the big men will be a factor, too. Alabama's 7-foot center Moussa Gueye has started two SEC games and is playing 13.8 minutes per game. Forwards Devonta Pollard and Nick Jacobs combine for 41.1 minutes per game.

If Cauley-Stein can't go, Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer will again have to step up.

They'll have the opportunity to do so - Alabama ranks No. 12 in the 14-team SEC in offensive rebounds per game (10.3) and last in defensive rebounds per game (21.8).

"I think there is a lot more responsibility (on me)," Noel said of playing without Cauley-Stein. "Got to make sure I'm staying in the game and taking care of the paint and really holding it down."

Although Alabama may not have much size, that doesn't mean they won't make it a grind-it-out game, Calipari said. His team must be ready to grab 50-50 rebounds and play through bumps on drives.

The Cats have to handle pressure defense, too. Alabama is forcing opponents into 15.2 turnovers per game, fifth-most in the SEC.

"You got to relish it," Calipari said. "That's what you want. But if you don't want that, it's an issue."


KENTUCKY AT ALABAMA| TUESDAY | 9 P.M. | ESPN
KENTUCKY (12-5, 3-1 SEC)
Coach: John Calipari (114-19 in fourth season at Kentucky; 517-157 in 21st season overall)
Last game: Beat Auburn 75-53
Roster | Stats
ALABAMA (11-6, 3-1 SEC)
Coach: Anthony Grant (74-45 in fourth season at Alabama; 149-70 in seventh season overall)
Last game: Beat Texas A&M 50-49
Roster | Stats
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Ryan Harrow So. 6-2/170 10.4 2.7
G Julius Mays Sr. 6-2/192 8.4 2.6
G Archie Goodwin Fr. 6-5/198 15.0 4.9
F Nerlens Noel Fr. 6-10/208 10.8 9.2
F Alex Poythress Fr. 6-7/239 13.1 6.4
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Trevor Lacey So. 6-3/215 12.5 3.9
G Andrew Steele Sr. 6-4/225 4.3 2.3
G Levi Randolph So. 6-5/205 8.3 4.0
G Rodney Cooper So. 6-6/215 11.6 4.1
C Moussa Gueye Jr. 7-0/255 1.0 4.3
Game/Series Information
Game Information
Site: Coleman Coliseum (15,383), Tuscaloosa, Ala.
TV: ESPN (Brad Nessler play-by play, Jimmy Dykes analyst, Shannon Spake sideline).
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network (Tom Leach play-by-play, Mike Pratt analyst); XM 199.
Internet: Audio | Video
Favorite: Kentucky by 3.5

Series Information
Series record: Kentucky leads 102-36
At Tuscaloosa: Kentucky leads 28-22
Coaches' records: Calipari 5-2 vs. Alabama; Grant 1-4 vs. Kentucky

Last meeting: Kentucky 77, Alabama 71, Jan. 21, 2012, Lexington, Ky.
Alabama's physical front line neutralized Anthony Davis - Kentucky's star freshman was 2-for-10 from the floor - and though the Wildcats led most of the way, they couldn't pull away from the Crimson Tide. Terrence Jones had 15 points and six rebounds and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 13 points and six boards. Despite his shooting struggles, Davis had 11 points, nine rebounds and six blocks for UK, which went 8-for-8 at the free-throw line in the final minute to hold off Alabama. The Tide got 22 points and 12 rebounds from JaMychal Green.

Keys to the Game
1. Guard Heavy: Alabama starts four guards, but its best scorer might come off the bench in the backcourt. Trevor Releford has been a reserve four times this season, including in Alabama's most recent game, a win against Texas A&M. Releford is a versatile scorer (16.2 points per game) who shoots 49 percent from the floor, 41.2 percent from the three-point line and 85 percent from the free-throw line. He's averaging 18.7 points per game in Southeastern Conference play, six points more than any of his Crimson Tide teammates.

2. Fits and Starts: Though Releford sometimes is a reserve, don't be surprised if Alabama coach Anthony Grant starts him. In fact, no Crimson Tide lineup should be much of a surprise. Alabama has used nine different ones this season. Sophomore Trevor Lacey is the only Tide player to have started every game this season. The given is that barring injury or foul trouble, Releford and Lacey will be on the court together a lot. The backcourt duo averages a combined 28.7 points per game. That's 43.9 percent of Alabama's total scoring.

3. Man of Steele: Another key on Alabama's backcourt-heavy team: the presence of senior guard Andrew Steele. Steele's numbers aren't eye-popping - he averages 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game and has more turnovers (18) than assists (17). But as the Tide's lone senior, he's a steadying influence. Alabama went 2-5 while Steele was sidelined recovering from a sports hernia. Alabama is 9-1 when Steele plays.



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