Originally created 12/21/96

Wildcats hope to crack ACC barrier with Ga Tech game



Third-ranked Kentucky hopes to accomplish what Southeastern Conference teams haven't been able to this season - beat an Atlantic Coast Conference squad.

The Wildcats (7-1) will try to snap the SEC's seven-game losing streak when they face Georgia Tech (4-2) at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta tonight (7:30 p.m., ESPN).

Formerly known as the Cotton States Classic, the Kuppenheimer Classic and the Jeep Eagle Classic, the Holiday Classic is a basketball showcase event for Georgia and Georgia Tech.

For Georgia's part in the benefit for the Scottish Rite Children's Hospital, sponsored this year by Delta Airlines, the Bulldogs (6-1) will take on Brigham Young (1-6), starting at 5 p.m. (SportSouth).

"I think the ACC is obviously the strongest conference," said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino. "I think the SEC is having growing pains."

In the latest AP Top 25, the ACC was represented by No. 2 Wake Forest, No. 8 Clemson, No. 11 Duke, No. 12 North Carolina and No. 25 Maryland while the SEC had Kentucky, No. 19 Arkansas and No. 20 Alabama.

"The SEC is playing some tough teams," Pitino said. "We're up and down. We play good games. In the end, LSU and Tennessee are going to come on and Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky are going to be good throughout the course of the season."

Kentucky's only loss came to an ACC team, a 79-71 overtime setback to Clemson in the season opener. And Georgia Tech has claimed an SEC victim, beating Georgia 62-61.

"Georgia Tech is a dangerous basketball team," Pitino said. "They have a young backcourt and very experienced frontcourt."

Forward Matt Harpring leads Georgia Tech in scoring (22.8) and rebounding (9.8).

"Harpring is obviously the main gun but they can beat you so many different ways," Pitino said. "This is a team that, if you can't physically get to them and wear them out, can cause you great problems. If you don't defend the 3, you can have a long night."

Pitino noted that Georgia Tech has take 52 percent of its shots from beyond the 3-point arc in its last three games.

"That's one thing, of late, we haven't done a real good job of and we have to in this game," he said of defending against the 3.

Georgia Tech is shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point range while Kentucky is holding opponents to 32.4.

Forward Scott Padgett, who sat out three semesters while getting his academics in order, is now eligible for Kentucky. His return will help offset the loss of Oliver Simmons, who announced last week that he was transferring to another school.

"He had a very high grade-point average, so we're very proud of Scott," Pitino said. "He knows now he can do the work. It will only help him in the future."

The Georgia-BYU game was ex

pected to be a matchup of Southeastern Conference and Western Athletic Conference basketball powers. Instead it will match the upstart Bulldogs against a BYU team mired in controversy after an early-season swoon and the unexpected firing of its coach this week.

Roger Reid, the Cougars' head coach for seven years and an assistant for 12 years before that, was fired by BYU Athletic Director Rondo Fehlberg on Tuesday. He was 152-77 (.668) while in Provo.

"I was sorry to see that," said Georgia coach Tubby Smith. "Roger Reid is a great guy and I thought he'd done a wonderful job at BYU."

So instead of facing a Reid-coached team, the Bulldogs will face one coached by Tony Ingle, a Dalton native who has served as Reid's assistant for the last seven seasons. Ingle was one of the finalists for the Georgia Southern head coaching job filled last year by Gregg Polinsky.

"I'm sure they'll come ready to play," said Smith.

Georgia's football team faced Kentucky in a similar situation, in which Bill Curry was fired as head coach in the week prior to the game. The Bulldogs came out on the wrong end of a 24-17 upset in Lexington, Ky.

Asked if he thought there were any similarities in this case, Smith cracked "I hope not."

The Cougars' season started off badly when Byron Ruffner, last year's leading scorer, abruptly quit school in October, then pleaded guilty to third-degree felony theft. Then Jarrko Ahlbom, a 6-foot-10 center, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game. The Cougars also lost several recruits to two-year Mormon missions.

Reid was roundly criticized for stating that 6-foot-11 recruit Chris Burgess "disappointed 9 million Mormons" by signing with Duke rather than BYU.

Fehlberg only cited poor attendance when he announced Reid's dismissal.

Tonight, the Cougars will have to contend with a white-hot shooting bunch of Bulldogs. Georgia is 34-of-60 (57 percent) from 3-point range the last three games and is shooting 43 percent from behind the arc for the season.

Kentucky hopes to accomplish what every other SEC school has failed to do this season - beat an Atlantic Coast Conference squad. The SEC is 0-7 against the ACC this year, including Georgia's 62-61 loss to Tech Dec. 3 in Atlanta.

"I think the ACC is obviously the strongest conference this year," said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, whose team lost to Clemson in its season-opener. "I think the SEC is having growing pains."