Vaught's Views: Morris can be inside presence Cats need

November 04, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - His numbers were not outstanding and his play was not dominating, but Randolph Morris still made it clear that he could be just what the Kentucky basketball team needs this year.

The Wildcats used a 15-0 scoring run in the first half to overcome an early deficit and then pulled away in the second half to beat outmanned Northern Kentucky 91-73 in an exhibition game Wednesday night.

As expected, senior Chuck Hayes and junior Kelenna Hayes were the team leaders. Hayes had 15 points, six rebounds and four steals with his usual steady all-around play. Azubuike showed he could be ready to go from rising star to star with a 26-point outburst that included 11-for-14 shooting.

Kentucky's highly-touted freshmen, the Fab Four, were led by speedy guard Rajon Rondo. He had 16 points, five assists , four rebounds and six steals in 22 minutes to more than offset a team-high four turnovers.


Morris, a 7-foot center, had just one field goal. However, he had five rebounds and three blocked shots. More importantly, he gave Kentucky a low-post presence it lacked last year when undersized Erik Daniels played the pivot. Daniels relied on his instincts to survive against bigger foes, but Morris has the bulk - and desire to stay close to the basket - to give UK an inside presence opponents will notice.

"Randolph is a big presence in the post and gives us all a lot of confidence on defense," Azubuike said. "If you get beat, he can still alter or block a shot. We're all excited about that and expect him to keep doing that."

Memories of Magloire

So does Morris. He inspired UK's 15-0 run in the first half that wiped out a 20-12 deficit by blocking three shots - in 46 seconds. That's right. Not once. Not twice. But three times in less than a minute he aggressively blocked shots and brought back memories of former Kentucky big man Jamal Magloire establishing that the paint belonged to him.

"No matter how many shots I block, I always want more," Morris said. "It is something I can do. It's not what I am limited to, but blocking shots and playing defense is something I can do.

"Coach (Tubby) Smith emphasizes defense. If you play defense, the offense will come. That's the way I was taught to play. Defense pumps me and gets me excited. I like blocking shots and stopping teams."

Morris, like the other freshmen, still needs work. He got beat off the dribble several times by smaller, quicker Northern players. Several times he was late getting back on defense.

But he is a presence inside. On UK's first possession, he set a screen on an inbounds pass that got Azubuike an open shot. On the next series, he hit a turnaround shot in the lane. Then he got a defensive rebound to start a fast break.

Those are the type of plays Smith envisioned when he was able to persuade Morris to join the Wildcats along with guards Rondo, Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley.

"I thought he played pretty good," said Smith, who normally gives out little praise after exhibition games. "He was aggressive blocking shots and rebounding. I thought he got a little winded, but I was pleased with his effort."

Obrzut also benefits

His effort may also have one other big benefit for Kentucky. Seven-foot sophomore Lukasz Obrzut looked much more confident and productive than he did last year. He had eight points, two rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes.

Obrzut was even able to laugh that his jersey had the name "Orbzut" on it.

"I got it right before the game and it was wrong. But what could I do?" Obrzut said.

Opponents may feel the same about Morris before the year ends.

"He can be a great player," Obrzut said. "He's proven that to me already in practice. He can be as good as he wants to be. We help and push each other, but he's really good. He doesn't act like a freshman."

Actually, none of UK's new players do. Crawford, known for his scoring, took a charge in an exhibition game. Rondo dove on the floor numerous times for loose balls. Bradley looked comfortable at both guard spots.

The only problem they had was long-range shooting. The freshman guards were 0-for-7 from 3-point range. Of course, they weren't alone. Azubuike was 3-for-4 from 3-point range, but his teammates were a combined 0-for-16, including 0-for-4 by both Patrick Sparks and Crawford.

Kentucky was 0-for-10 from 3-point range the second half, a number that made Smith a little sensitive after the game when asked about it.

"I don't think we'll ever shoot one again. You won't see us shooting any more 3s," Smith said. "I'm not concerned at all. We just took some bad 3s. But there is not any reason to think we will be a poor shooting team."

He's right because Morris' inside presence is going to get the Cats a lot of open 3-point shots.

"Randolph does all the little things," Rondo said. "He blocks shots. He rebounds well. He does things every day that amaze us. He creates bad shots for opponents. He can be a great scorer, too. He can find open teammates, too. He's a guy that can make us all better by just being on the court."

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