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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.
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."
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