Fitch just glad to be back on floor

February 19, 2004|Mike Marsee

LEXINGTON - Gerald Fitch didn't mind playing with pain, just as long as he was playing.

After playing for the first time in two weeks, Fitch said his right index finger was smarting after the game Tuesday night.

But the pain he felt during and after Kentucky's win over Arkansas was negated by the joy of just being able to play again.

"It was a lot of fun, getting back in the swing of things and getting a win," the senior guard said. "I had a great time."


Fitch, who sat out the previous three games after spraining his finger, played 20 minutes in his return Tuesday.

He had eight points - about half of his average - two rebounds, two assists and two steals.

And he had a hefty ice pack covering the most talked-about digit in Kentucky after the game.

"It's something I have to deal with," he said. "Right now it's real sore."

But Fitch said he wasn't feeling as much pain while he was on the floor.

"It wasn't too bad," he said. "The hand didn't bother me unless I hit it or caught the ball wrong. I tried not to even think about it. I just played."

Fitch demonstrated that on one play midway through the second half when he lunged forward to make a steal, pushed the ball far ahead to Kelenna Azubuike, then grimaced and took off the sleeve protecting the finger while Azubuike shot free throws.

Fitch first entered the game with 16:02 left in the first half, getting a loud ovation from the Rupp Arena crowd when he checked in.

On Kentucky's next trip down the floor, he drew a foul and missed two free throws, the first off the front of the rim and the second off the back of it.

"I think I needed to run up and down the court one time before I got some free throws," he said. "I was trying to think about it too much.

"Once everything settled down, I had a lot of fun."

Fitch's longest stint on the floor was a stretch of about 71/2 minutes in the second half during which he scored all eight of his points.

His injury didn't affect his ability to run and stay in shape while he was sidelined, but he said he wasn't in game shape after his three-game layoff.

"I did get winded," he said. "I think it's adrenaline, just the atmosphere of playing games. It's definitely a big change from just running on the track or running on the treadmill to get in shape."

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said he was pleased with Fitch's play - for the most part.

"I thought Gerald played OK until he started hunting shots," Smith said.

"I think he got a little impatient there and took a couple of bad shots."

Fitch was 1-for-4 from 3-point range and 2-for-7 overall from the field.

"I wasn't trying to take over the game," he said.

Fitch started in all of Kentucky's first 18 games before injuring his finger in the second half of the Feb. 3 game at Florida.

He said he still doesn't know exactly when or how the sprain occurred.

"I remember going to the free-throw line in the Florida game in the second half. I was about to shoot it, and my index finger was numb," he said.

"I knew then something was wrong because I couldn't really feel it."

But he said he feels better now that this game is behind him, and said he's looking forward to playing longer and better in the Wildcats' next game Saturday at Auburn.

"I'm looking forward to all the games we have. I don't have too many left," he said.

But he wouldn't talk about when or whether he should return to the starting lineup.

"I won't answer that," he said.

"I don't care if I start or not. You've got to ask Coach that."

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