Cats prefer to run UK players like small lineup

November 07, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - If Tubby Smith let his players vote on a starting lineup, 7-foot freshmen Shagari Alleyne and Lukasz Obrzut might not ever break into the first five.

It's not that the players who started Kentucky's exhibition victory over Team Nike Tuesday have anything against Alleyne and Obrzut. They just prefer the fast pace that the Cats' smaller lineup was able to use with no one taller than 6-8 Erik Daniels on the court.

"That fast pace is what we like to do," said sophomore Kelenna Azubuike, who got a start at forward and responded with 14 points. "Our strength with that small lineup is getting out on the fast break.

"We are quick. Why not run? We have a lot of guys that can break you down off the dribble or make a pass off the fast break. The faster the pace, the better we are."


Smith went with a lineup of guards Cliff Hawkins and Gerald Fitch, forwards Chuck Hayes and Azubuike, and Daniels at center. Those five players combined for 90 points, 32 rebounds and 16 assists in the 107-89 win.

It wasn't unusual for UK to finish a fast break with an easy shot because of a crisp pass. Once Hawkins and Fitch exchanged a quick series of three passes while advancing the ball for an easy shot without it ever touching the floor. It also was commonplace for the Cats to turn a steal into a fast break opportunity.

"We did not pass as much as I would have liked the first half. The second half we picked up and really distributed the ball," Smith said. "We had opportunities to get even more transition baskets. Nike did a good job running the floor and making us play full-court defense."

Hawkins had 17 points and four assists. He did not have a turnover in almost 27 minutes of play and certainly ran the team the way Smith wanted.

"The effort was there," Hawkins said. "This could definitely be a fun year for us. I think we all like getting out and running like we got to do in this game. Anybody that we had in the game at the start can grab the ball, bring it up the court and turn it into a scoring opportunity for us. Both Erik and Chuck can beat any big man down the floor and get easy shots for them or us."

Extra weight didn't seem to slow Daniels

Daniels put on weight over the summer in case he has to play extended minutes in the middle while Alleyne and Obrzut adjust to college basketball. However, the extra weight didn't seem to slow him down. He had 24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Not only did he run the floor well, but he also showed the ability to score inside thanks to a variety of post moves.

"We kind of wondered how Erik would do, too," Hawkins said. "He's lost five to seven pounds since practice started. He didn't need to gain a lot of weight."

He also didn't need any prodding to pick the lineup he would like to see Smith use.

"Personally, I think the small lineup is best," Daniels said. "That gives us a lot of quickness, something that will be hard for a lot of teams to match up against. We can all also guard anybody. We can help each other out. It's just a better lineup for our talent.

"I love going against bigger guys because I know they can't keep up with me for very long. I can get a lot of easy baskets, and rebounds, against bigger, slower guys. I've played the post most of my career. I've added a few more low post moves, but playing inside won't be a problem for me. I can handle it."

Smith still hopes to get Alleyne and Obrzut more playing time to take advantage of their size. However, Kentucky will also get Antwain Barbour, who is suspended until the second game of the regular season, back soon and that will give Smith another quick, versatile and experienced player to go with the five he started against Team Nike.

'I think we could get off to a fast start this year with the experience we have," Hawkins said.

"We have a lot of players who can do a lot of things," Smith said.

"It gives me a lot of options, especially when we go with that small, quick lineup. I really like the quickness and outside shooting that group gives us."

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