|Surprise rebounds helped spark Kentucky's surprise turnaround|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 25 January 2008 13:52|
Considering the players available to first-year coach Billy Gillispie, that seemed a reasonable assumption. After all, this was a small, guard-heavy team with shooters galore, but few big men strong enough to battle for rebounds alongside star freshman Patrick Patterson.
In the early going, which included several humbling losses to unranked teams, that's how things played out. Yet, in three of the Wildcats' first four Southeastern Conference games - including Tuesday's upset of No. 3 Tennessee - they outrebounded their opponents.
Perry Stevenson, a slender forward who has provided a recent complement to Patterson on the defensive glass, said it's about time the rebounding game started clicking.
``It's kind of a surprise to me we hadn't done it earlier considering how much we work on it,'' Stevenson said.
As expected, Patterson has led the Wildcats (8-9, 2-2) in rebounding 10 times this season, but Stevenson and five other Wildcats also have pulled off the feat. In fact, guards have carried Kentucky on the glass five times - twice by Derrick Jasper and Joe Crawford and once by Ramel Bradley.
``There's a lot of guards that don't want to go in there and do the dirty work,'' Jasper said.
Refusing to do dirty work on Gillispie's team is a quick path to a seat on the bench. Gillispie thinks rebounding is a critical skill for any player - not just the big, strong guys.
Take Jasper. Like Rajon Rondo, a predecessor as UK's point guard who now plays for the Boston Celtics, Jasper has rebounding abilities that far exceed his shooting abilities.
Gillispie said that will be his ticket to the NBA.
``If you average six rebounds a game as a guard, you're going to get a chance to play somewhere,'' Gillispie said.
Jasper remains somewhat hobbled by a knee that went through microfracture surgery and still wears a brace, but Gillispie points to his return as the moment that sparked the rebounding renaissance. It has to do with anticipation and desire, not jumping.
``I used to be a high leaper,'' Jasper said, ``but not anymore. I'm old now.''
Bradley said a team can be successful if it focuses on rebounding, regardless of personnel.
``Whoever gets the rebound is the guy who wants it more, who is going to go chase it down,'' Bradley said. ``All five guys on the court are going to crash the glass.''
The recent rebounding success may also be injecting some toughness into other aspects of Kentucky's play.
Stevenson, for example, has been out-muscling defenders lately - something he hardly ever did last year, when even he acknowledged he played like a ``punk.''
``I'm just trying to get into a mindset of hit first before getting hit,'' Stevenson said. ``It definitely feels a whole lot better on your body after the game.''
Against the Volunteers, he had arguably his best game ever: 14 points, seven rebounds and five blocks. If he can find a way to dominate alongside Patterson, Stevenson said, look out.
``If I could do that, we'd be the best in the country,'' he said. ``Pat's carrying a huge load. I'm just doing whatever I can to help him.''
While the record continues to linger far behind where the intense fan base of the nation's winningest basketball program would like, Kentucky could pull back to .500 - and above that in the conference - by beating South Carolina on Saturday.
Gillispie refuses to talk about prospects of an NCAA tournament run, but games like this one will be critical to keep any chance of that alive. First, though, Kentucky just needs to win a second straight game - something it hasn't done since November.
``If you're trying to look ahead, you're making a lot of mistakes, wasting a lot of energy,'' Gillispie said. ``Teams are too good.''