Barbour adds to UK's options

January 30, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Tubby Smith never worried about Antwain Barbour losing his confidence even when he was missing shots and spending far more time on the Kentucky bench than anyone imagined when the season started.

"He's a kid that is always upbeat," said the Kentucky coach. "He has a great smile and air about him. The players love him. We love him. Everybody wants him to play well. He may have struggled all year, but he never got down and it finally paid off. Now we have more options."

Barbour, a senior forward, hit a career-high four 3-point shots in Kentucky's 71-61 win over Mississippi Wednesday and is looking forward to doing even more in Saturday's game at Vanderbilt.

"I've been able to score all my life, and I wasn't going to lose my confidence just because I missed a few shots," Barbour said. "But it was a relief when I hit my first one (Wednesday). I was trying to play good defense. I think I am a good defensive player and when I do good things on defense, it helps my offense."


Barbour was just 1-for-13 from 3-point range this season going into the Mississippi game and was shooting only 31.6 percent overall from the field. He went 4-for-6 from the field against the Rebels, including 4-for-5, from 3-point range and had 12 points in 19 minutes of play.

"That shooting should give him a lot of confidence and that is going to help Tubby, too," college basketball analyst Larry Conley said after working Wednesday's game. "For Tubby to be able to look on the bench and see a kid that made 3-pointers, that will make him feel good about putting him out there compared to the past where maybe he wouldn't because he wasn't shooting well. Now he can grab a guy that can give him scoring off the bench and that could be huge for Kentucky."

Kentucky (14-2, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) beat Vanderbilt 75-63 Jan. 10 here to give the Commodores their first loss of the season. Now Vanderbilt is 13-4 and 2-4 in league play after losing 57-55 at home to South Carolina Wednesday.

"We are a disappointed group right now," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said Thursday. "We just have to make more winning plays at the end and stay away from the things that have been costing us ballgames at the end of games. We've just got to get things going again."

Vandy's loss to South Carolina was its first at home

The Commodores were the only SEC team not to have a lost a home game until they fell to South Carolina. Vanderbilt also lost guard Corey Smith for Saturday's game after he was ejected for fighting with South Carolina's Renaldo Balkman. He averages six points and 22 minutes per game, but he was scoreless in 16 minutes in the earlier loss to Kentucky.

Smith anticipates Vanderbilt being more than ready for the Wildcats, who blew most of a big first-half lead before holding the Commodores in the first meeting.

"They had a tough loss, but it's always tough to play in Nashville," Smith said. "They've got a great crowd. They run a Princeton-style offense that creates a lot of problems."

Matt Freije is Vanderbilt's leading scorer and had 26 points against South Carolina. However, he had just 13 points on 6-for-15 shooting against Kentucky's collapsing defense that drew two charging fouls against him in the earlier game.

"I would like to see him make every shot he takes, but that won't happen," Stallings said. "Kentucky is a great defensive team. They are really good at a lot of things and defense probably leads the pack. Matt has to take what the defense gives him in some cases, but being our go-to guy, sometimes he has to be aggressive and if that means picking up a charging foul or two, so be it."

That's the same aggressive attitude Smith wants Barbour to keep taking. He caused several turnovers with his defense Wednesday and was not hesitant on his shots like he had been.

"Antwain was in a groove against Mississippi, but that was no surprise because we know he's a great player," Kentucky senior guard Gerald Fitch said. "He's capable of playing like that all the time.

"That's all I had been talking about with him. I've been acting like I was his biggest fan because I wanted him to know we all believed in him."

Smith has been almost as big a cheerleader.

"He is as good an athlete as we have," Smith said. "He can play three different spots to spell people. If he can start playing the way we know he can, then we have a chance to be a little better team."

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