LEXINGTON, Ky. — Coach Joe B. Hall, who has complained in past years about his team's lack of heart in January, is calling hustle a strong suit for this year's Wildcats.
The question, of course, is whether the young Wildcats can maintain the aggressive play that has won four straight--including a 68-61 decision over Auburn in the Southeastern Conference opener last Wednesday night and a 92-89 upset of Kansas on New Year's Eve--through six games in 12 days.
Saturday's game against North Carolina State was the third of the stretch.
"This team has to be tough and physical and aggressive," Hall said, comparing his club's heart to that of his 1978 NCAA champions and other past teams. "We've lacked size and experience, so we've got to rely on something else. We're beginning to find that role and to develop the character necessary."
Among other things, that has meant getting the ball to Kenny Walker, who poured in 36 points against Kansas and 24 more in the SEC opener Wednesday night. Hall came up with some special plays featuring Walker when the Wildcats played Louisville and, since he scored 32 in that game, the plays aren't special any more.
"He might go down as Mr. Hustle of the year," Hall said, still relishing the 6-foot-8 forward's performances. "Kenny is that type of young man. Now he's beginning to find his role on the team . . .
"Last year, he played more of a subordinate role, and we wondered what happened to his rebounding," Hall said. "It's taken him a little while this year to find out his place."
But he's not the only one.
Winston Bennett, who had been averaging only 7.7 points per game, broke out for 12 against Auburn, hitting all four free throws, and played the biggest role in containing Tiger star Chuck Person, who was almost 11 below his average with 14 points Wednesday night.
Point guard Roger Harden, meanwhile, "has become the offensive leader of our ball club, without question," Hall said, noting that the junior from Valparaiso, Ind., had eight assists and only one turnover against Auburn.
According to Hall, the reason for the four-game winning streak that improved Kentucky to 5-4 is the same as the cause of the four-game losing streak that preceded it--time.
"When we started the season, we were just not ready to start. We had no unity and no continuity at all. We were learning," the coach said. "The biggest factor is time. We've had time to develop plays for them and learn them."