Orbzut plays bigger role for Wildcats

December 14, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

DETROIT - Every time Lukasz Obrzut practices, he visualizes that he's going to play a big role in the next game.

"I practice with the thought in mind that I am going to play. I don't practice thinking I am going to be sitting on the bench," Obrzut said.

He played a career-high 13 minutes in Kentucky's 79-74 win over Michigan State on Saturday and was in the game at key times in the final minutes because starter Erik Daniels was in foul trouble.

"Lukasz stepped up for us when we needed him," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.

The 7-2 freshman from Poland had just one rebound, but he did get four points - which doubled his career total at Kentucky.


Obrzut had two turnovers, but his biggest blunder came with 5 minutes, 24 seconds to play and UK leading 68-66. He set a screen for point guard Cliff Hawkins near the foul line and then rolled toward the basket. Hawkins passed to Hayes, who fed Obrzut for a wide-open shot under the basket that he missed.

However, he helped forced a Michigan State turnover on the Spartans' next possession that led to a 3-pointer by Gerald Fitch.

"That miss was my fault," Obrzut said. "I just thought about coming back on defense and getting the ball back. That's all I was thinking about because I knew I let the team down. I had to do something to counter that mistake."

Smith has been hoping Obrzut, or any of his centers, could become more productive to provide depth for Daniels and Chuck Hayes.

"He's been looking good in practice. Today could be crucial for him if he uses this to learn," Smith said. "It gives us more size when he can play. He did an adequate job on (Michigan State's Paul) Davis and made him at least shoot over him. We needed that."

Obrzut said the festive atmosphere and playing in front of 78,129 fans did not bother him, even though "a big crowd" at a game in Poland was 7,000.

"As long as there are two baskets and a ball, it's no problem," Obrzut said. "I just feel great that I finally got a chance to help. I am trying to do my best. This was a chance to show the coaches that they can trust me and can get a little rest for Erik when he needs it. I'm proud of that."

He knows he still has to adjust to American officiating. He had three fouls in his limited play.

"I play a strong, physical game," Obrzut said. "When they (the officials) decide to call a foul, I can't say anything. I can't say it was not a foul. But I'm learning they watch everything.

"I'm also learning to watch more when I am on the bench. I can see what other teams do and how I can help when I come in like I did today.'

Open: Daniels and Chuck Hayes were a combined 9-for-25 from the field in UK's last game, a 52-50 win over UCLA. Saturday they were 15-for-21, including 11-for-15 in the first half when Kentucky built the lead it never relinquished by scoring 32 of its 49 points in the paint.

"Me and Erik noticed they weren't really double-teaming us in the post, and that just gave us the opportunity to get them in foul trouble and score. Since we are a little bit undersized, we have to do our best job to get angles on the block," Hayes said. "Everything was falling for us, too. I was able to get a couple of rolls and Erik was able to do his up and under move."

Hayes finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds, the same type numbers that led Michigan State coach Tom Izzo to put him on the Pan American Games team he coached last summer.

"He is a unique kid," Izzo said.

"I got to say a few things to him, but he knows how much I think of him," Hayes said.

Revenue: Saturday's game cost Michigan State, which was scheduled to host UK in a home game this year, about $1.5 million. The Spartans still expected to make about $1 million, or five times what they normally would for a home game.

Kentucky also shared in the wealth because it got $100,000. That's $75,000 more than the Cats would have got for playing in East Lansing, Mich.

New look: The basketball court was elevated at midfield of the football field, and there were 2,500 white folding chairs on each side of the court along with sections for students and bands to stand in each end zone.

"I can't compare this to any kind of park or place I've ever played in," Hayes said. "The parks I played in had swings and monkey bars. I don't think I ever dreamed of one day playing in anything like this."

Numbers: Kentucky out-scored Michigan State 44-26 in the paint, but the Spartans had 17 points off turnovers to UK's 14. However, Kentucky had 13 fast break points to only four for the Spartans. ... Kentucky's 60.4 percent shooting (29-for-48) was its best of the season. ... The Cats were 16-for-21 from the foul line, but Michigan State was 23-for-25, including 14-for-14 by Davis.

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