Vaught's Views: Barnes says winning is what Wildcats do best

January 27, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Because he doesn't follow University of Kentucky basketball on a daily basis, Rod Barnes didn't know about all the problems Tubby Smith's team was having.

The Mississippi coach was remotely aware that the Cats didn't have an abundance of depth, but he didn't know until this week that it had been an almost daily topic of concern among UK fans all season.

Barnes didn't know that Kentucky wasn't flashy on offense, didn't score enough, lacked consistent outside shooting and had blown way too many leads. He didn't realize UK's freshmen players had not developed quickly enough.

The Mississippi coach certainly didn't know that Smith hadn't been recruiting enough marquee players to suit many Big Blue fans, either.


"Most coaches in our league would take 13-2 and be excited. So would most fans," said Barnes. "They are held to a different standard and I understand that, but they are pretty good."

Actually, Barnes thinks Kentucky is better than that going into Wednesday's game against the Wildcats. He puts No. 5 UK among the nation's elite teams even though the Cats have lost at home to Georgia and Louisville this year.

"They are as good as anyone in the country with their top five or six guys," Barnes said. "The thing about Kentucky is that if you look at the schedule, they play good people. There are not many teams out there with guards like (Gerald) Fitch and (Cliff) Hawkins and then you have the versatility of (Chuck) Hayes and (Erik) Daniels. To me, they have more than proven themselves."

He wonders about the criticism leveled at Smith and UK

The more Barnes thought about criticism he heard had been leveled at Smith and UK, the more he wondered what was going on in Kentucky.

"They just win. Let's make sure we write that down," Barnes said. "They've lost one game in the SEC in their last 22. We just accept winning here. Whether it is ugly or pretty, don't have depth or do, the bottom line is winning.

"Tubby is a great coach. That may be underrated. Kentucky has always had a bunch of McDonald's All-Americans, that's what they were known for, and recruiting classes that were No. 1. They've not had that, but they have had kids that have allowed them to keep the program at that level. It's just hard for me to question something about Kentucky."

He's not nearly done yet.

"Kentucky is 13-2, has lost one conference game, plays a tough schedule and last year went through the league winning 16 in a row and beat up people bad," Barnes said. "We've got good teams in our league this year just trying to go on the road and win one game. They won by 10 to 15 points last year.

"I know about tradition, but you can't live on tradition. I don't know how anyone could complain about Kentucky. You say they don't have depth, but they win. You say they run out of gas, but they win. As a coach, I could accept that. Other teams in our league you consider having depth, but they have lost games."

Can you say "Florida" and its supposedly deep bench that has already dropped two league games after being picked to win the league?

Barnes said to quit worrying about UK's depth because he sees a trademark Smith ploy working.

"Every game you see more kids playing. Tubby has always done that," Barnes said. "He just works kids in, and they get better. They win and get better, a philosophy we try to copy. They are right back at the top of the conference with no supposed depth, and those guys are just going to get better."

Take a breath, coach. Some people obviously realize what Smith does, but those radio call-in shows, message boards and general conversations do tend to nitpick about the Cats' flaws.

"I don't want the people in Kentucky to be mad at me once I get there, but they just win," Barnes said. "You can't satisfy and please everybody, but they are good and they win. What more can you do?"

Don't rush to answer that question because there really is only one logical answer. Smith's team is 13-2 this year, finished 32-4 last year, has won 39 of its last 42 overall games and has won 27 of its last 29 road games.

Only at Kentucky would that record have to be defended by an opposing coach.

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