Smith says UK needs to be more physical

January 20, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Tubby Smith apparently wants to make sure his team understands it must be much more physical if it wants to challenge for the Southeastern Conference championship this season.

The University of Kentucky coach openly questioned his team's toughness after Saturday's 65-57 loss to Georgia that snapped the Wildcats' 21-game Southeastern Conference win streak and denied Smith his 300th victory.

One play that particularly irked Smith came when Georgia's Steve Newman decked Antwain Barbour as he was ready to make an easy layup following a Georgia turnover.

"You've got to fight fire with fire, "Smith said. "If they lay you on the ground, you'd better lay somebody on the ground. We don't have that. If they laid Antwain Barbour out, somebody should have been laid out."


Kentucky will get its chance to "lay out" somebody tonight when it plays at rival Tennessee, a team that beat Georgia 89-65 less than two weeks ago.

Junior Chuck Hayes, considered UK's most physical player, said Smith's public message was nothing the players had not heard before.

"He's made that clear to us before," Hayes said. "By Newman doing that hard foul on Antwain, he let us know there wouldn't be anything easy. That's the mentality coach Smith wants us to have. When a team comes into the lane, he wants us to make them second guess about coming back a second time.

"He's not talking about being dirty, but just setting the tone so teams know they won't get any easy baskets. I had a hard foul earlier when I was just making sure they didn't score and they might have been responding to that when Newman fouled Antwain. I would have responded, but I had four fouls and really didn't have a chance."

Senior guard Gerald Fitch was not surprised at Smith's plea for more toughness, either.

"That's coach Smith. He's a tough guy. That message is no surprise to us," Fitch said. "But we should have played tougher all night, just not after that incident.

"We played soft. We got pushed around. We weren't playing Kentucky basketball. We were letting them dictate the game. We can't afford any more games like that or we will get beat by more teams than just Georgia. You won't see us playing the same way at Tennessee."

In past years, teams knew they couldn't push UK around inside

Smith hopes that's right, but almost sounded doubtful Monday. He said when UK had Jamaal Magloire and Marquis Estill, teams knew they could not push the Cats around inside.

Kentucky lacks that intimidating presence - or enforcer - this year.

"They were very physical with us and hurt us inside," Smith said of Georgia. "There's not much we can do until we get more physical players inside and outside."

Hayes said he was not insulted by Smith's words or questions from media members about UK's toughness.

"You are just asking questions and I am here to answer," Hayes said. "I know I am tough. I'm not the type of person to back down. If somebody tries to hit me or give me an elbow, I will give one right back.

"If we are down there in the paint, I am going to try and get dirty if that's what you want or we can keep it clean and hard. Either way, it's fine with me. I may not be a Jamaal Magloire, but nobody is going to shove me around."

The Wildcats understand that the word may well be out that the way to beat UK is to play physical. Louisville did it and overcame a 24-10 deficit to beat UK.

Mississippi State did it and overcame a 17-point deficit before losing on Erik Daniels' basket in the final second.

But Georgia was even more physical to win at Rupp Arena.

"We just have to be more aggressive," Daniels, who had just one rebound against Georgia, said. "We know what is coming. But if we play our type of basketball, nobody will beat us."

Smith said his team has to learn how to win when it's not making shots.

"I thought our guys played hard, but not particularly tough or smart," Smith said.

He just hopes his players took Saturday's loss as hard as he did.

"I was devastated. This loss was as tough as any we've had," Smith said.

"Georgia was 0-2 in the league, a guy (Dennis Felton) was coming back who had beat us when he was coaching at Western Kentucky, we were playing for (my) 300th win and to keep (the Southeastern Conference) win streak alive. We had a lot that should have motivated us."

Central Kentucky News Articles