UK starters relieved by play of subs

March 14, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

ATLANTA - Determining the success of Kentucky's bench play is about more than the numbers.

"When guys come in off the bench, you just want them to play hard more than anything else," UK point guard Cliff Hawkins said. "Today they did that and it was a big help."

Kentucky got 28 bench points in Saturday's 78-63 Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinal win over South Carolina.

However, 24 of those points came from Gerald Fitch.

The other four players who played before the final seconds combined for just four points, two rebounds and four assists and most of those came from freshman Sheray Thomas - four points, one rebound and three assists.

Thomas, Josh Carrier, Lukasz Obrzut and Bobby Perry played a combined 29 minutes and to the UK starters, that was their biggest contribution.


"It helps us a lot when they come in and play like they did today," said UK's Kelenna Azubuike, who played 33 minutes.

"You get a break, and everybody needs that. The starters can't play the whole game. If those guys come in rebound, get a steal or two and do anything else, it helps us win even if the statistics don't look impressive."

Thomas had extra duty due to Hayes' foul problems

Thomas was pressed into extra duty because Chuck Hayes was limited to just 19 minutes because of foul problems.

Thomas was 2-for-3 from the field and his only glaring mistakes were two turnovers.

"I just try to rebound and push my man so that when the starter comes back in, he's tired and our starters will not have to work as hard," Thomas said.

"I'm never totally pleased with how I play, and I certainly didn't like my turnovers today, but I was doing some little things to help us win."

The number seven was written on the blackboard in the UK dressing room. That's how many more games the Cats would have to win to claim a national title.

Azubuike said coach Tubby Smith put the number eight on the same board a day earlier after the Cats beat Georgia.

"I didn't see who wrote it up there today, but it might have been coach Smith," Azubuike said.

"But he's not going to put it up until after the game is over. You can't be distracted before a game. We are playing well now, but we have to keep it going."

Kentucky faces Florida in today's SEC title game.

Fitch had an ice bag on his right hand

Fitch had an ice bag on his right hand after aggravating an injury to his shooting hand he suffered about six weeks ago.

"I don't know when or how I hurt it again," Fitch said. "I just have to deal with it. It's painful, but nothing that I can't deal with or nothing that will bother me tomorrow. I think I did it right at the end of the game."

Fitch said that's why depth is important.

"You never know when something can happen. It can be an injury, foul trouble or even sickness," Fitch said.

"That's why we need those bench guys to play like they can."

Erik Daniels had 21 points Saturday even though he was throwing up before the game and was coming off an eight-point performance in Friday's win over Georgia.

"I hope he throws up again tomorrow," Azubuike said.

"We all knew he would have a big game. He's not going to have two bad games in a row. But at least now if something does happen, we have a guy like Sheray or some others ready to step in and help. At this time of year, that means an awful lot."

Numbers: UK has won a season-high eight straight games and has now won 51 of its last 56 games. ... Erik Daniels' 21 points gave him 1,015 for his career. ... Kentucky had two players score 20 or more points (Gerald Fitch 24, Daniels 21) for the first time since Dec. 7, 2002, against North Carolina. ... Kentucky committed a season-low two turnovers in the first half and went the first 17 minutes without a turnover. The Cats finished with a season-low eight turnovers.

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