Election-night battle brings out opposing views from coaches

The news conference following UK’s season-opening game against Central Arkansas was a classic battle of “he said, he said.”

Ask Central Arkansas head coach Rand Chappell, and he would tell you UK’s defense was in midseason form. Ask UK head coach Billy Gillispie, and he would tell you he wanted to give Big Blue Nation more next time.

Both were right. It was far from perfect, but at the same time, it was far from wretched.

Whomever you listen to, the Cats showed a lot of promise in their first real game of the season, and they showed areas where they certainly can improve.

The good news first: They advanced to the second round of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer — wow, that’s a mouthful — to play Gardner-Webb tonight with a 67-40 win. And they held up their end of the bargain for a possible semifinal showdown next week at Madison Square Garden in New York City against Connecticut.

Here’s more good news: In almost every statistical category, the Cats dominated the game. They made 47.3 percent of their shots, they out-rebounded the Bears by 15 and they held Central Arkansas to just 20 percent shooting.

“We never were, all night, able to get in any kind of offensive set,” Chappell said.

The diversity of the lineup was also very encouraging.

As this column stated last week, the Cats are going to play a lot of different players this year, in a lot of different positions. Many of those players are young.

It’s very beneficial to UK, especially so early in the year, to experiment with several different sets, because several different player rotations are going to be on the floor at the same time throughout the year.

Freshman center Morakinyo Williams played 19 minutes and had five rebounds. Freshman walk-on Kerry Benson played 14 minutes and hit a 3-pointer. Sophomore guard Michael Porter started.

“Whoever earns it gets it,” Gillispie said. “You’re on a one-day contract and that’s just the way it goes.”

That was the good. Here’s the bad:

One player that apparently didn’t earn it was senior guard Joe Crawford. He wasn’t in the starting lineup, and he only played six minutes in the first half and just 18 for the game.

But he made his best attempt to get out of the doghouse with a 20-point night, many of which were the result of big plays he made on the defensive end.

Apart from Crawford’s individual effort, the offense looked out of sync for most of the night.

UK was effective when it was working the ball from the inside to the outside. When freshman forward Patrick Patterson and sophomore forward Mark Coury (yeah, that Mark Coury, whom Gillispie said after the game has been the “dominant post player for us in the first three games”) had the ball in the post, they were able to find open shooters and find players cutting to the basket.

Other than that, UK struggled with the ball.

“We set pretty high standards for each possession,” Gillispie said, “and I don’t think that we’re really understanding how important each possession and each pass, each offensive possession and each defensive possession is.”

If you were to ask Chappell, though, he probably would have said the exact opposite. They sounded like politicians.

And you thought election night was over.

Jonathan Smith is a journalism senior. E-mail [email protected].