UK's backcourt helps Cats avenge earlier losses to Georgia

March 12, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

ATLANTA -- Cliff Hawkins said he took Kentucky's two previous losses to Georgia "personally" because he didn't do enough to help his team win.

That changed here Friday.

Hawkins, who had just 23 points in seven previous Southeastern Conference Tournament games, had 14 points at halftime and finished with a career-high 23 points to help No. 8 Kentucky beat the Bulldogs 69-60.

The win puts Kentucky (24-4) into Saturday's tourney semifinals against the winner of this afternoon's LSU-South Carolina game.

"This was just a game we had to win," Hawkins said. "I wasn't about to let us lose."

He was 6-for-8 from the field in the first half and, even though he was just 2-for-8 in the second half, it was his 3-point goal with 1:45 to play that gave the Cats a needed lift and 59-55 lead. That shot came just after Georgia point guard Rashad Wright hit a 3-pointer to cut UK's lead to 56-55.


"I wouldn't say I was trying to outdo him," Hawkins, who also had four steals and two assists, said. "I was just open, took the shot and made it."

Hawkins' backcourt teammate, Gerald Fitch, added 15 points along with some stifling defense on Georgia guard Levi Stukes. After hitting eight 3-point shots in Thursday's win over Auburn, Stukes was limited to just 1-for-6 shooting from the perimeter Friday.

"When I was on him, I really wanted to stay tight," Fitch said. "I didn't want to give him any room."

Georgia coach Dennis Felton said Stukes wasn't prepared for what he saw.

"Kentucky's defensive intensity made the pace of the game quicker than it was yesterday," Felton said. "That can break a shooter's rhythm. He had never seen that kind of intensity out of an opposing defense before."

Felton wasn't sure he was alone, either.

"I can't say I have ever seen a team play harder with such a sense of urgency and intensity as Kentucky did today," Felton said.

Intensity carried over to Kentucky's own huddle

That intensity boiled over several times inside Kentucky's own huddle. Hawkins and Barbour both seemed upset at times in the huddle and Fitch had to have teammates Brandon Stockton and Bobby Perry stay between him and the coaching staff during a late timeout.

"Gerald is just emotional," Stockton said. "He was trying to get some other guys playing harder. He just got a little too emotional and out of hand. He was a little excited and needed to be calmed down. But this was a big game. Everybody was a little excited."

Perry, a freshman, said nothing overly unusual happened in the huddle.

"In the heat of battle, things go on," Perry said. "We just had to get Gerald under wraps and settle him down. He was just trying to help correct a teammate. It was no big deal."

Barbour used the same words to describe not being in the starting lineup. He had started the last nine games and had scored in double figures four times. He found out just before the game that coach Tubby Smith decided to insert Fitch back into the starting lineup.

"I ain't got nothing to say," Barbour said after finally emerging from the training room about 15 minutes after other UK players had already been available to the media. "He's the coach, not me. I just have to take advantage of every second I do get."

Barbour had only one point in 17 minutes of play.

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