Azubuike responds to challenge

December 21, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

INDIANAPOLIS - Kelenna Azubuike was more than ready for Saturday's game here against Indiana.

"As soon as the final buzzer went off against Michigan State, I was ready for this game," said Azubuike after UK's 80-41 victory.

That's because a week earlier Azubuike was a non-factor in Kentucky's 79-74 win over Michigan State in front of more than 78,000 fans at Ford Field in Detroit. He was 0-for-2 from the field and did not have a rebound. Early foul trouble forced him to the bench and limited him to 16 non-productive minutes.

He had been somewhat better against UCLA Dec. 6 when he had nine points on 3-for-6 shooting from the field and 2-for-2 at the foul line. But he had just three rebounds in that game after averaging 7.3 rebounds in UK's first three games.


Kentucky coach Tubby Smith let Azubuike know much more was expected from him going into this game.

"We challenged him, and he responded," Smith said.

Azubuike had 11 points and was 5-for-7 from the field, including 1-for-1 from 3-point range. He also pulled off eight rebounds and had just one foul in 26 minutes of play. He did have four turnovers, but his other numbers helped offset those mistakes.

"Coach Smith just wanted me to get rebounds and be more aggressive," Azubuike said. "He does that with everybody. He's a great motivator.

"I didn't want something like last game to happen again. I just wanted to make sure I did things to help us win. Michigan State was a horrible experience, but I had to learn from it and move on. I never got in the flow against Michigan State. That's what fouls do for you."

Azubuike scored Kentucky's second basket and then hit his 3-pointer midway through the first half to extend UK's lead to 16-5. However, his most important play may have been when he came flying through the air to rebound an Erik Daniels' missed shot. That showed others he was more into this game mentally.

"I asked him to be more aggressive and he was," Smith said. "He's an athletic young man. He made a great play the second half when he caught a pass that was behind him, but still scored."

Kentucky assistant coach Dave Hobbs said Saturday's play is more what the coaches expect, and the team needs, from the sophomore wing player.

"He's been struggling on offense, but he was more aggressive and fluid today," Hobbs said. "He got on the boards more. It's all a learning process.

"We don't ever want to rely on just one guy, but we certainly need him to do his part. When he came flying in there to get that first rebound, you knew he was in the game more mentally today."

Azubuike wants Smith and his staff to expect play like this every game from him.

"There's no reason for me not to be more consistent," Azubuike said. "I want to get 10 or more rebounds, not eight. Eight is not a lot. Coach Smith should expect that from me."

However, Azubuike was happy that his father, who had a heart transplant during UK's offseason, was able to make the trip here to watch the game.

"He's come through a lot and it is a blessing to have him here," Azubuike said. "It's great to have that support and makes me want to play even better."

Numbers: The 39-point margin was the biggest in the 47-game history between these two rivals ... Kentucky freshmen Bobby Perry and Sheray Thomas both scored their first two collegiate points. ... Kentucky had 20 turnovers, the most by any Indiana opponent this season. ... Kentucky had 54 rebounds and eight blocked shots, both season-high totals. ... Chuck Hayes had the ninth double-double of his career with 22 points and 10 rebounds. ... UK was 17-for-21 from the foul line, an 81 percent mark. ... Kentucky shot 50 percent the second half and lowered its overall percentage to 54.4 for the game because it shot 60 percent (15-for-25) the first half.

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