UK Notebook: Smith worries about next game, not No. 1 ranking

December 16, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - If being ranked No. 1 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll bothers Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, he certainly doesn't show it.

"I just always worry about the next game. This team has talent. We have experience," Smith said Monday during his regular radio call-in show. "We've been able to win close games because of our experience. Our chances (of winning the national title) are as good as anyone in the country. That's why people have selected us No. 1.

"They are looking at our experience and saying we have a chance to go far in the NCAA. If we can develop depth with our post players, we can be tough at tournament time."

Kentucky has been "tough" enough already to post a 5-0 record and climb to No. 1 in the coaches' poll. The Wildcats are No. 2 in The Associated Press poll behind Connecticut (7-1). The Huskies were No. 1 in the first two polls before reclaiming the top spot in the AP poll this week even though Kentucky had 26 first-place votes to 21 for UConn.


Connecticut is No. 2 in the coaches' poll.

"The way it is today, it's not even parity," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun told the AP Monday. "I disagree with those who say there are 30 to 40 teams that can win the title - it's still probably in the 10-to-12 neighborhood. But we have to wait to see who evolves out of the group."

In this week's AP poll, Duke (one), North Carolina (six), Georgia Tech (14), Arizona (two) and Stanford (two) also got first-place votes.

"It's always a big deal to be No. 1," Smith said. "We appreciate it, but we realize it is just a ranking. You've got to prove it on the field and the court. That's the important part. We know we have the talent to prove it on the court."

Kentucky will face Indiana Saturday in Indianapolis in the RCA Dome.

Fitch honored: Kentucky senior guard Gerald Fitch was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week Monday after scoring 25 points in UK's 79-74 win over Michigan State.

He became the 50th player to reach the 1,000-point mark at UK in that win.

Fitch, who also won the same honor earlier this season, is averaging 20.4 points per game, the fifth best mark in the SEC.

Award winners: Receiver-kick returner Derek Abney was picked as the most valuable player on the UK football team as well as special teams player of the year. Abney also won the Jerry Claiborne Award given to a senior who exemplifies the ideals of the former UK player and coach.

The Associated Press also named Abney to its All-America second team as an all-purpose player Monday.

Coach Rich Brooks announced team award winners Monday. It was the first time since 1996 that team awards had been given.

Abney led the SEC in all-purpose yardage with 151.8 yards per game. He led UK in receiving with 51 catches for 616 yards and five scores. He averaged 9.8 yards per punt return and led the SEC in kickoff return average at 24.1.

He finished his career with five NCAA records, 11 SEC records and 14 school records for kick returns and all-purpose yardage. Abney also became the first Division I player to have 2,000 receiving yards, 2,000 kickoff return yards and 1,000 punt return yards.

He will graduate this week with a 3.179 grade-point average and degree in civil engineering.

Other award winners were:

Outstanding offensive player: Jared Lorenzen. He passed for 2,221 yards and 16 scores and led the team in total offense for the fourth straight year. He finished his career with six NCAA records, four SEC records and 11 school records.

Outstanding defensive player: Vincent Burns. He led the SEC with 18 tackles for loss and had 72 tackles, the most by a UK defensive lineman since Joey Couch in 1991.

Most improved: Chad Anderson. The sophomore linebacker had 125 tackles and led the SEC with 11.4 stops per game.

Outstanding first-year player: Lamar Mills. The redshirt freshman nose guard had 52 tackles, including six tackles for loss.

Inspirational player: Jamie Saylor.

Outstanding offensive lineman: Jason Rollins.

Most valuable scout team players: Travis Day and J.J. Bennett.

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