Fitch wouldn't mess with chemistry

February 29, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - If Gerald Fitch was coaching the University of Kentucky basketball team, he wouldn't put himself back into the starting lineup.

"With the way they have been playing without me, I wouldn't start myself," said Fitch. "I hope they can keep it going. With the way Antwain (Barbour) and Kelenna (Azubuike) have been playing, everybody is on the same page. We have been playing as a team. That's No. 1. No one is trying to get out of character. We are just following coach (Tubby) Smith's lead."

Fitch, a senior guard, has started 102 of the 119 games he's played at Kentucky. However, an injury to his shooting hand earlier this month caused him to miss three games and he's come off the bench in the last three games when UK beat Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee.

Fitch, tied with Erik Daniels for the team scoring lead at 14.8 points per game, has already made it clear to Smith that he's fine with coming off the bench today at LSU as well as the rest of the season.


"I think coach Smith knows I don't care if I don't start," Fitch said Friday. "I don't really care about starting. I'd advise coach Smith to keep the lineup like it has been and let me come out of nowhere.

"It really doesn't matter to me if I come off the bench or not. I guess maybe it is a sign of maturity. Starting meant a lot more when I was a freshman because that's when you are trying to build your identity. Everyone knows I'm a starter. That's why coming off the bench would not be a problem."

Last year Kentucky got a boost when Cliff Hawkins was the team's sixth man. The Cats won 26 straight games at one point and were ranked No. 1 going into the NCAA Tournament. Smith and his players all credited Hawkins' play for much of that success. Smith had hoped Barbour would fill that role this season, but he's played much better as a starter than as a reserve.

Michigan State won a national title in 1999 when one of their best players, Morris Peterson, was the team's sixth man.

"I don't think it really matters to Gerald if he starts or not," UK junior Chuck Hayes said. "If we were struggling and then he came in, he might give us the same spark that Cliff did last year. I think anybody on this team would do what it took to make us better. As a senior leader, it doesn't surprise me that he's willing to do that.

"He would give us more offensive firepower when he came in and make teams adjust how they play us because he can knock down shots. He's been through a lot here and has accomplished so much, why wouldn't he do something to help a senior teammate (Barbour) and the team?"

Not starting would have no impact on pro aspirations

Fitch said not starting would have no impact on any professional aspirations he has.

"Starting doesn't have anything to do with making the next level," Fitch said. "If you are a pro player, it doesn't matter to anyone whether you come off the bench or start.

"We are getting where we need to be. We still have a couple of things to work on, but we are getting there and if bringing me off the bench makes us better, I'm all for it."

LSU was 17-4 and 7-3 in Southeastern Conference play two weeks ago.

However, an injury to center Jaime Lloreda has resulted in a three-game losing skid for the Tigers. LSU lost by a combined 46 points to Vanderbilt and Mississippi State in its last two games.

"We've got to get back to doing what we were doing when we were able to win five games in a row," LSU coach John Brady said. "Somewhere between the Florida game and the last three games we lost our continuity. Hopefully we can get our confidence level back to where it was. We've got to get back to stopping people and rebounding better."

A healthy Lloreda will help. The center leads the SEC in rebounding at 11.6 per game and is scoring 16.9 points per game. He has a capable teammate inside in freshman Brandon Bass, who is averaging 12.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

"He (Lloreda) leads the league in offensive and defensive rebounds. He's a great player and is as good an athlete as there is in the country. He can do so many things he can score, block shots. He's their best player," Smith said.

"But Brandon Bass has also shown he's a physical guy. He's not as polished as Lloreda, but he's strong and athletic. It will be a real test because they are the kind of guys who have given us trouble this year. Missing somebody like Lloreda can change your defensive intensity. They probably had some slippage without him, but now he's back and they'll be ready for us."

Smith said he thinks the Tigers, who have five freshmen in their nine-player rotation, will play one of their better games because of how much they have on the line.

"They've got a chance to put another notch in their belt in the eyes of the NCAA," Smith said. "They've got a lot of things to play for. Being a young team, I'm sure they'll be inspired. They'll be ready."

Central Kentucky News Articles