UK's starters dominate Tech in 108-81 rout

November 30, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - No matter who Kentucky plays, it always wants to hold the opposition to less than 40 percent shooting from the field.

Kentucky couldn't do that Friday. Visiting Tennessee Tech not only shot 49.2 percent (32-for-65) from the field, but it also scored 81 points.

However, that wasn't nearly enough to stay with Kentucky as the 10th-ranked Wildcats used a dominating offensive performance by their starting five to win 108-81.

The Wildcats' starters scored 99 points, pulled off 29 rebounds and handed out all 24 assists UK had. The five starters were a combined 39-for-65 (60 percent) from the field as every starter scored at least 13 points.


Every starter also played at least 28 minutes, led by Erik Daniels' 32-minute performance.

"Three of us - me, Erik and Gerald (Fitch) - have played together for four years. Chuck (Hayes) is a junior. Kelenna (Azubuike) is only a sophomore, but he's learning," said UK senior point guard Cliff Hawkins.

"We've got that good chemistry going. We are real strong together and just have a feel for what we are doing."

Even though Kentucky coach Tubby Smith substituted freely and again tried several combinations just as he did in the season-opening win over Winthrop, there was no doubt about the stars of the game.

"We had five guys in double figures and it was obvious they were playing well together," Smith said.

None played better than senior Gerald Fitch, who had a career-high 36 points.

He was 14-for-20 from the field, including 5-for-11 from 3-point range, and also had four rebounds, three assists and one steal.

Two of his assists came late in the game, including one where he passed up an easy shot to get the ball to Daniels.

"We are just one big family," Hawkins said. "It didn't surprise me to see him passing even though he was having a great night. We wanted to get him the ball, but he's not going to just shoot if someone else has a better shot."

Fitch matched his previous career high of 25 points in the first half when he made 10 of 15 shots.

He had said his shot was "broke" when he struggled from the field in UK's first game going just 2-for-8 from the field, but extra shooting during the last week helped fix that problem.

"I got inside early for some easy shots and that got me going," Fitch said. "I was just making shots and trying to play with a lot of energy. I tried not to force any shots. I was mad at myself for the way I shot the first game and wanted to show I could do a lot better.

"I didn't feel like Michael Jordan out there. It's just that when I get into a groove, I shoot the ball. Tonight I was in a groove and everyone got me the ball."

Fitch was the first Kentucky player to score 30 or more points in a game since Tayshaun Prince scored 41 in an NCAA tournament win over Tulsa in 2002.

"Tubby didn't tell you I was Gerald Fitch's shooting coach, so I'll have to take the blame and the credit for that," said Tennessee Tech coach Mike Sutton, Smith's former assistant at Tulsa, Georgia and Kentucky.

Starters had impressive numbers

However, Kentucky's other starters also had impressive numbers.

* Hawkins tied his career-high with 17 points and set a career high with 11 assists to post the first double-double of his Kentucky career.

He also had just one turnover after making five against Winthrop.

"He's our floor leader and when he gets that many assists and just one turnover, we're going to be tough for anyone to beat," Daniels said.

* Hayes had his first double-double of the season - and seventh of his career - with 13 points and 13 rebounds, including nine on the offensive end.

* Azubuike was 4-for-6 from 3-point range in his second start and had 16 points, six rebounds and two assists.

"He's still got some work to do on his defense, but he knows what to do on the offensive end," Hayes said.

* Daniels was 7-for-13 from the field for 17 points and also had five rebounds, six assists and three steals.

"Whenever we want to, we can turn it on against anyone," Daniels said.

The only downside for the Wildcats was the defense. Tennessee Tech (2-1) often got easy shots off its transition game and also was able to beat different UK defenders off the dribble.

"Chuck is one of our best defenders, and they went by him," Smith said. "They were just taking us off the dribble. I was disappointed in that phase of our game."

So was Hayes.

"No matter how many points you score, you never want to let a team score that many against you," Hayes said.

"That's a problem and will get you beat most games. We were on offensively tonight, but we've got to be a lot better defensively than this if we want to be a championship team this season."

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