UK Notebook: Smith has a fan in Felton

March 14, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

ATLANTA - Even though he had beaten Kentucky three straight times before finally losing to the Wildcats here Friday, Georgia coach Dennis Felton remains a Tubby Smith supporter.

"I have so much respect for him and his program," Felton said after his team lost 69-60 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals. "I better because it is the same way that we approach things. How could I not like what he does?"

Felton beat Smith's team two years ago when he was the head coach at Western Kentucky. This season his Bulldogs handed UK two of its three regular-season conference losses.

"He has been a mentor to me because he was the first major college coach I ever met when I was just getting started as a junior college assistant coach," Felton said. "I've always admired the class and integrity he has. I have never had an opportunity to know exactly what he coaches like. I think I watched his team practice once years ago when I was at Western Kentucky.


"But as far as how his team approach is, I know that because as you play against somebody you prepare and dissect them. So I know his team approach is like mine. I know and respect that."

Felton says Kentucky's program stands above others and that any win over Kentucky is going to be important.

"The reason why it is such a big thing is because of what Kentucky stands for in this conference and country," Felton said. "We've been lucky to beat one of the best teams in the country and they are the best for all the right reasons. That's the challenge you always face when you play Kentucky.

"We have great respect for Kentucky. How can you not? They own this conference. They own it based on all the right reasons, too. They play the game the way it is supposed to be played and they make you beat them. They don't ever show up to lose a game. That's a tribute to coach (Tubby) Smith and the character his players have. If there is a more difficult team to consistently beat than Kentucky, I don't know who it would be."

He said the way the Cats played defense Friday showed that. Georgia freshman guard Levi Stukes made eight 3-pointers in Georgia's tourney-opening win over Auburn. He was 1-for-7 from the field against Kentucky.

"Kentucky's defensive intensity made the pace of the game quicker than it was (Thursday)," 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.

Team Turmoil: Smith had several on- and off-court problems with his team two years ago. Friday it appeared the Cats were having some type of turmoil as Gerald Fitch, Cliff Hawkins and Antwain Barbour were all seen talking and gesturing in response to words from Smith.

Fitch had to have teammates Brandon Stockton and Bobby Perry stay between him and the coaching staff during a late timeout and spent extra time on the bench after that.

"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.

He also denied that he was more animated than usual on the sideline.

"I didn't do anything today that I haven't done all season," Barbour said after Friday's game.

Appreciation: Brandon Cross recently broke UK assistant coach Reggie Hanson's all-time scoring record at Pulaski County High School. Hanson sent Cross a congratulatory note praising him for his accomplishment.

"It was just the right thing to do," Hanson said during a break at the SEC Tournament. "It's a big honor for him and I thought it was something I should do to show him that I was proud of his accomplishment."

Hanson was also one of 20 people inducted into the first class of the Coaches 12th Region Hall of Fame Saturday during the regional tourney at South Laurel High School.

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