Vaught's Views: Smith cites need to use more players but stays with rotation

December 30, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Either Tubby Smith doesn't mean what he says about wanting to develop more depth, or he knows that he just doesn't have any depth to use.

The Wildcats got through their first seven games with basically a seven-player rotation. Against Louisville, that lack of depth cost UK as the Cats tired noticeably in the 65-56 loss Saturday that dropped them from No. 2 in The Associated Press rankings to No. 8 this week.

"I was worried about us getting off to a great start and using all of our energy," Smith said after Saturday's loss. "I thought the depth factor played a major part in the game because we asked Chuck (Hayes) and Erik (Daniels) to give us a lot of hard work. We need some more energy from some more people."

Getting off to a great start normally would be seen as a positive. It had been in UK's seven previous games when the Wildcats had trailed for a total of just 65 seconds. However, Saturday UK could not hold a 24-10 lead it built in 10 minutes.


The Cats managed just 32 points the final 30 minutes and got just two field goals the final 10 minutes of the first half. After opening the game going 9-for-18 from the field, UK was 11-for-41 the rest of the way. The Cats also had an early 11-6 rebounding edge before losing that battle 38-30.

Louisville's bench provided 33 points and needed energy for the Cardinals as three players played more than 15 minutes each. UK got a career-best effort from backup point guard Brandon Stockton (8 points, 19 minutes) but almost nothing else from Antwain Barbour and Lukasz Obrzut - the only two other players Smith used.

"We wore them out," Louisville forward Luke Whitehead said. "When their players ran out of gas, so did their crowd."

Smith said in mid-October that it would be crucial for him to develop freshman 7-footers Shagari Alleyne and Obrzut. Alleyne has played 31 minutes in five games and Obrzut 66 minutes in eight games.

Freshman forwards Bobby Perry and Sheray Thomas, the two higher-rated players in Smith's latest recruiting class, have been non-factors. They have combined to play just 36 minutes this season.

Kentucky has four players - Hayes , Daniels, Gerald Fitch and Cliff Hawkins - averaging 29 or more minutes per game. The fifth starter, Kelenna Azubuike, averages 27 minutes per game. However, Smith readily admits that in key games, he's more comfortable with his starters and has no qualms about using them 32 or more minutes each.

"You never know when you'll need more depth," Smith said before UK played Indiana. "But we do have veterans on this team. They've been through the wars of the past. I look at those guys to play a lot. They are hardened, mature and their stamina is much better than a younger player's. I would stack them up against a less experienced team because they are just stronger and smarter."

Obviously Kentucky's nucleus of veterans didn't "stack" up that well against Louisville's deeper bench.

Now there could be a bigger push to develop more depth starting with Tuesday's game against Austin Peay in Louisville.

Or will there?

Smith has had chances to go to his bench more but didn't get extensive minutes for any of his freshmen in easy wins over Eastern Kentucky and Indiana.

Still, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas recently said he thought Kentucky could be a top five team all year even with a seven-player rotation.

"Fatigue is not a problem. We like to get out and run. We can handle playing a lot of minutes," Azubuike said.

Every player believes that. And should. Still, it's hard to imagine a Kentucky team that cannot use more than seven or eight players. Or perhaps it's even harder to imagine a Kentucky team with just five productive players.

When Smith has gone to the bench, the results have not been good most of the time. Obrzut fouls too much and has not been a consistent rebounder or defender. Barbour has struggled offensively and been inconsistent with his defense and floor play. Stockton has twice as many turnovers as assists. And they have been UK's best bench players.

"Everybody wants to play minutes," Hawkins said. "I am happy playing the minutes I am playing. But if my minutes have to go down to benefit the team, I am all for it."

That's a decision Smith has to make. He has to balance winning now and maintaining a high ranking for NCAA seeding purposes versus trying to develop depth that will make UK better in March.

So far, Smith has chosen not to go to the bench. It worked for seven games, but it cost UK Saturday and now we'll see whether that changes Smith's philosophy about his bench players.

Central Kentucky News Articles