Fitch finds his 'groove' in win

December 24, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Gerald Fitch started the game with four assists in less than six minutes, including a behind-the-back pass to Cliff Hawkins.

Midway through the second half Fitch had another memorable six-minute stretch, but this time he had 17 points and hit 3-pointers from each side as well as scoring in transition.

"I started kind of slow the first half, but then in the second half I got some open shots and my teammates got me the ball," said Fitch after his 26-point performance led Kentucky to a 101-72 victory over Eastern Kentucky Tuesday night. "I kind of got in a little groove.

"I just felt like I couldn't miss. But they were all open shots. It wasn't anything too special."

Fitch was 10-for-16 overall and 5-for-7 from 3-point range, one reason the Cats (7-0) had a season-high 11 3-pointers. Overall the Cats were 11-for-21 from 3-point range as Cliff Hawkins was 2-for-2 and Kelenna Azubuike 3-for-3.


"We are a good shooting team," Fitch said. "When we are all making shots, we can do a lot of things. I just don't know why some people think we can't make shots."

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith has no doubts about Fitch's shooting ability when he takes good shots like he did against Eastern.

"He took a couple of tough shots early, but he did make some great passes early in the game," Smith said. "If he gets open looks, he's an excellent shooter and tonight he took great shots."

Still, his riskiest move might have been his behind-the-back pass to Hawkins on his left to finish a 2-on-1 fast break. Smith normally prefers his players to make more traditional passes.

"It just shows the confidence he has," Smith said. "It probably was a good play. The guy might have taken away his left hand and he could not have made the pass across his body.

"I'm glad it worked. I know he's glad it worked."

Smith said the pass was not as difficult as some apparently thought.

"It was just open," said Fitch, who received the Michigan State game ball after the win for scoring his 1,000th point in that win Dec. 13. "At the rate of speed I was going, it was the only way to give Cliff the ball without getting it deflected. It might have looked fancy, but it was a fundamental pass."

Cats do a lot of "fundamental" things well

Kentucky did a lot of "fundamental" things well against outmanned Eastern Kentucky. The Cats shot a season-high 64.2 percent (43-for-67) from the field. They also had 28 assists and 18 steals, both also season highs.

Fitch's early assists helped UK race to an 18-4 lead in less than six minutes before Smith went to his bench and allowed the Colonels to play the Cats on even terms the rest of the half.

"We did a good job early of taking away Eastern's 3-point shot," Smith said. "We made them take the ball to the basket.

"We played unselfish, passed the ball well and made shots. When we do that, we are a pretty good team."

In the opening minutes both Hawkins and Azubuike dove on the floor for loose balls, another reason Smith liked the way his starters played.

"We got beat in a lot of hustle areas against Indiana (Saturday)," Smith said. "We wanted to set the tone and play more physical and go after loose balls better. We did that."

About the only aspect of the game Smith didn't like was the way his reserves turned the ball over. UK had 22 turnovers, but 15 were committed by Kentucky's bench players. Freshman center Shagari Alleyne had four in 10 minutes of play and sophomore Bernard Cote had three in six minutes. Nine of the 11 reserves who played had at least one turnover.

Smith said the turnovers "concerned" him so much that he wasn't sure how important it was to try and develop depth. Later he was a little more compassionate toward his reserves.

"They are anxious and nervous. They are probably trying to do something quicker than they should," Smith said. "Our guys off the bench go hard, but they don't get that many opportunities. They get out in front of a crowd and get excited."

Fitch knows the Rupp Arena crowd will be even more excited Saturday when the Wildcats host Louisville. UK has won 33 of its last 34 games since losing 81-63 at Louisville a year ago. Fitch had just five points and was 2-for-10 from the field in that loss.

"They hit us with a low blow last year," Fitch said. "I hope we can do the same to them this year. We have not forgot what happened last year. This is going to be a huge game. We'll prepare for it like any other game, but we know what this game means to every Kentucky fan."

Central Kentucky News Articles