Cats' experience pays off in dealing with officiating

March 17, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Officiating is not something Tubby Smith discusses with his players, but he is glad that his team has enough experience to sense how a game is being called.

"We don't talk about officiating. We may talk among the coaching staff, but not with the players," said the University of Kentucky coach Tuesday. "Maybe once or twice we might go into an environment where I might be concerned how a game is going to be called or was called previously. But that's it."

Smith knows his team may have to adapt to officiating when NCAA Tournament play begins. Friday, The Wildcats will face Florida A&M, which beat Lehigh 72-57 Tuesday in the NCAA play-in game, in Columbus, Ohio.

"I think you have more closely called games (in the NCAA Tournament)," Smith said. "Officials are human. They raise their level of intensity, too. Maybe they are just seeing better. But you also have the best ones calling the games."


Smith said his veteran team proved in last week's Southeastern Conference Tournament that it could adapt as needed. Kentucky opened with a win over Georgia in a physical, half-court game. South Carolina preferred a more up-tempo game and tried to outrun Kentucky. Florida played mainly a soft zone defense.

"Probably because we were playing an aggressive man-to-man and Florida was in a zone, there was a wide difference (in the way the game was called). We looked a lot more aggressive because of Florida's zone. But that can happen. It's just the way it is, but I feel good about our guys' ability to adapt and adjust to the way any game is being called."

NCAA numbers: Kentucky's top six players all have extensive NCAA Tournament experience. However, none have overly impressive statistics going into this year's ourney.

Senior Gerald Fitch, UK's leading scorer, has played in 10 NCAA games and started seven. Even though he's shooting 46 percent from the field, he's averaging just 8.0 points per game. He's also managed just 2.6 rebounds per game and has almost as many turnovers (16) as assists (21).

Senior Erik Daniels has also played in 10 NCAA games. He's averaging just 4.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 17.3 minutes per game. Senior point guard Cliff Hawkins has averaged 6.0 points and 22.1 minutes per game in 10 NCAA games and has 29 assists and 21 turnovers.

Junior Chuck Hayes has started seven games during the last two NCAA Tournaments. He's averaged 5.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 24.4 minutes per game and shoot 44.4 percent from the field.

Kelenna Azubuike and Antwain Barbour each played in four tourney games last year. They each scored just eight points on 3-for-10 shooting from the field. Barbour had three assists and six turnovers.

Feeling fine: Smith said Hawkins (ankle, tendinitis) and Fitch (bruised thigh) were both feeling fine after being "banged up" in the SEC tourney.

Smith gave the team the day off Monday before having them lift weights Tuesday morning and return to the practice court Tuesday afternoon. The team was scheduled to practice again today before heading to Columbus for Thursday's mandatory press conference.

"We're in good shape," Smith said. "One of your biggest concerns at this time of year is making sure your players are healthy and that they have their proper rest. We are in good shape there."

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