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OSCAR L. COMBS
CATS' PAUSE EDITOR/PUBLISHER
UKITs next, but Indiana will be real test for 'Cats
With three more games remaining at home before Kentucky heads back out of town, coach Eddie Sutton and his Wildcats hope to build some confidence as they approach the annual University of Kentucky Invitational Tournament this weekend
While this field is anything but a classic, a couple schools could present the Cats with tar greater opposition than Northwestern State, which upset UK 85-82 fast week.
Kentucky opens with Bowling Green of Ohio Friday at approximately 9 p.m. after Arkansas State and Marshall square off in the tourney opener.
Whichever Kentucky meets on Saturday night will be more than token opposition and it doesn't matter whether it's in the consolation game or the championship contest.
Arkansas State is a pretty good team. It defeated Houston Saturday, but State will be even better next week when a couple minsters become eligible.
Marshall is another matter. The Thundering Herd has been the elite of the Southern Conference for the past few years under former LSU assistant Rick Huckabay. It'll take a superb performance for the Wildcats to win a pair this weekend.
After that and before most of you receive next week's TCP, Kentucky will play host to Indiana at Rupp Arena. It'll be the first true test to see if the 'Cats have benefited back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Northwestern State.
It will also be a barometer on what to expect from the 'Cats during the remainder of the season.
Bobby Knight's Hoosiers are also experiencing an off-season, but you can bet the IU boss will pull out all stops in an effort to beat the 'Cats in Rupp Arena, something the Hoosiers have never succeeded in.
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At this point, many basketball followers figured the Wildcats would be no worse than 4-3 and many believed the 'Cats would be 5-2 going into the UKIT. Things just didn't work out.
The season-opening loss was no shock, just the second-half collapse. And while Kentucky had an opportunity to win the Great Alaska Shootout, it certainly was no disgrace to leave Anchorage with a 2-1 mark and the consolation trophy.
The roughest part of the season was absorbing the stunning loss in the homecourt opener against Northwestern State. It may be some time before the 'Cats, the coaching staff and fans get over that one.
UK did bounce back against Western Carolina and won 78-60, but even the most vocal UK fans have more than just a tad to be worried about.
One of UK's three victories thus far required a sensational shooting exhibition or UK could still be looking for its vic-
tory over California.
The first gunslinger to shoot the 'Cats out of their misery was junior Derrick Miller, who exploded for 36 points against California in the Great Alaska Shootout.
While the offense has been decent thus far, defense and rebounding haven't been strong enough to even nudge the needle on a sound machine.
Kentucky may survive this weekend without superb exhibitions on each end of the floor, but beginning with Indiana next Tuesday, any more performances like those of the past four or five games will have the 'Cats fighting for their lives against the worst of the SEC.
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When you're winning, you like to see the offensive artillery passed around on a team. It's good for morale and team unity But when you're not piling up victories, you call it inconsistency.
To date, the only consistent weapon in the UK camp has been LeRon Ellis, who seems to score at will inside, especially when Sean Sutton is getting the ball to him.
That was sorely missed against Duke when Sutton sat out because of his cheekbone surgery, but the coach's son has returned and appears to be near 100 percent these days.
Freshman Chris Mills was expected to be the other half of UK's wicked 1-2 punch and he was in the early going, but all freshmen go through slumps and the rookie from southern California is mired in an offensive one right now.
Both Miller and Reggie Hanson, the other two regular starters, have shown flashes of stardom but are yet to put those back-to-back performances together.
Mike Scott struggled much of the early season, then enjoyed an excellent game against Western Carolina, although the UK camp is still very much concerned about the lack of intensity of the senior post man.
Freshman redshirt Deron Feldhaus, at times, shows the physical dominance the coaches expect of him, but he too had been inconsistent.
The newcomer in the contributing department since the 'Cats returned home a week ago has been freshman Richie Farmer, who got the call for 20 minutes of action against against Northwestern State and 19 minutes against Western Carolina.
He responded with a game-tying three-pointer in the final two minutes against Northwestern State and had a three-pointer fall just short at the final buzzer.
Against Western Carolina, he rattled off 15 points on six of nine from the field, including three three-pointers along with four rebounds. Even more significant, though, was the fact he didn't commit a single turnover in the two games.
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Former Wildcat star Larry Conley, now a successful color analyst with several networks, including UK's, told a meeting of AP editors Saturday that he would be interested in the UK AD job.
From the when-it-rains-it-seems-to-pour department:
After the Northwestern State game, UK officials complained bitterly. I'm told, to the SEC office about the officiating.
Well, when the ball was tossed to open the next game at Rupp Arena, you had not one Kentuckian calling the game, but three.
As a rule, officials who live in Kentucky and call games in the SEC decline to officiate UK games because of the tremendous interest in the state and to avoid any personal conflicts.
What happened Saturday had nothing to do with UK complaining about several calls three nights earlier.
The reason had to do with Kentucky changing the starting time of the Western Carolina game from 7:30 to 1:30 p.m. after the original schedule was released, and someone at UK reportedly forget to notify the league office, which in turns hires the officials.
The situation was rectified less than an hour before the game as officials frantically summoned Dave Bair. Ken Cox and Jake Bell. Bell and Bair are regular SEC officials and Cox is a KIAC official. Bell is head football coach at Lexington Henry Clay where Bair is his assistant and Cox is principal at Lexington Tates Creek.
And the mixup cost UK a few extra dollars as two of the officials were scheduled to work a game at East Tennessee State University that evening. They agreed to call the game on the condition
that UK could guarantee them transportation to Johnson City. Tenn. The officials were whisked out of Rupp Arena just minutes after the game to meet a chartered plane at Blue Grass Field.
And why was the game moved to the afternoon in the first placee first place? A UK spokesman said the game was moved to afternoon by former UK athletics director Cliff Hagan so fans out in the state would have more time to return home after the game.
Only problem with that explanation is the fact that the Wednesday night game against Northwestern State was originally scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and changed to 8 p.m. by UK. Guess UK officials wanted to give fans less time to get home after the game.
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Count one name in the hat for the permanent title of athletics director at the University of Kentucky.
Larry Conley, the popular television color analyst for several networks, told a meeting of the Associated Press sports editors in Lexington Saturday that he is interested in the job and would like to be considered.
Conley, who was a star on Adolph Rupp's famous Rupp's Rurtts squad back in 1966, said he believes UK will survive its current problems and can bounce back within a reasonable amount of time.
Conley said the important thing for UK (Continued on page 22)