Barbour may stay in starting lineup

February 11, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Leading scorer Gerald Fitch might be able to play when Kentucky takes on Georgia Saturday, but that doesn't necessarily mean Antwain Barbour will come out of the starting lineup.

Barbour had 10 points in Saturday's win over South Carolina when he replaced Fitch, who has an injured finger on his shooting hand, in the starting lineup. He came back Tuesday with a career-high 23 points in a 66-55 victory over Alabama.

"It's a very good possibility," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith when asked if Barbour might remain in the starting lineup even if Fitch can play Saturday at Georgia.

"I was really impressed by the way he was able to do so many things. It was obvious he was the best player on the floor," Smith said. "When Antwain steps up, that makes a big difference. You can see him gaining confidence with every second he's on the court. I was very impressed with his energy level to start the game."


Barbour had Kentucky's first 13 points in the game to match his career-high, which came in his first game at UK last season.

"I'm sure nobody had a problem with him shooting because he was the only one making shots," Kentucky's Chuck Hayes said. "Now we are going to expect him to play like that all the time. We see it every day in practice. Now he just has to do it in every game."

While Smith would not speculate on who might come out of the lineup, the most logical choice would be sophomore Kelenna Azubuike. He had 10 rebounds Tuesday, but was only 2-for-9 from the field and had three turnovers. In the last five games, Azubuike is only 17-for-53 from the field, including 4-for-18 from 3-point range.

Smith made it clear that he liked all parts of Barbour's game. He was 10-for-13 from the field, pulled off five rebounds and did not have a turnover in a career-high 33 minutes of play.

"He's very athletic and he is very capable of scoring in bunches like he did tonight," Smith said. "When he's knocking down the outside shot, it makes him that much better. I thought he also did other things well, too. He gave the ball up, didn't have a turnover, which is really impressive, and he did a good job defensively on Kennedy Winston and Earnest Shelton.

"Everybody has been hoping and praying he would come around. I appreciate his patience. He's been the same upbeat, outgoing young man and we've just been waiting for him to have a game like this."

Barbour hopes there are more to come.

"I think you saw the real Antwain tonight," Barbour said. "I'll just keep working hard and see what happens. If I go back to the bench, then that's OK, too. It's a team game and I just want to help us win."

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