Azubuike gets hot for Wildcats

November 28, 2004|HAL MORRIS

LEXINGTON - With one swift dunk on the fast break, Kelenna Azubuike may have busted out of his early-season shooting slump.

Struggling to find his shot over Kentucky's first two games, and going just 1-for-6 in the first half Friday against Georgia State, the junior forward made six straight shots over the first 5:07 of the second half during a 19-3 run in the Wildcats' 77-59 win at Rupp Arena.

"I was looking for anything to get me going. I had a good little streak there," said Azubuike, who tied for game-high honors with 16 points. "The shots still weren't falling the way I wanted them to, but we're going to work on that tomorrow."

Azubuike missed his first shot of the half before getting going with Kentucky up 41-23.

After a missed layup by State's Malcolm Sylvester, Patrick Sparks grabbed the rebound and raced up court. Looking off a defender on the break, Sparks found Azubuike on his left, who threw down a dunk that got himself, and the 22,368 in attendance, roaring.


"Kelenna getting on track in the second half, that was good to see because we're going to need him to step up and do some things there. I wanted Kelenna to be more aggressive, and take the ball to the basket and I think our guys realized that," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "He had the hot hand.

"He was standing still in the first half, not being very active. (In the second half) I thought our guys, they started looking for him and he started to put it on the floor, taking shorter jump shots instead of taking the 3."

Azubuike came into Friday's game shooting just 33 percent, including a 1-for-6 mark from 3-point range.

After a bad first half, Azubuike finished 8-for-18 Friday.

Sparks, who dished out a game-high seven assists, had two assists to Azubuike and four during the run. He said Smith wanted him to get Azubuike the ball where he could score.

"We weren't knocking down shots in the first half, so (Smith) told us to get in there and go to the hole and get some easy buckets and try to get to the line," Sparks said. "And that's what Kelenna started doing, and we just kept going to him. He really had a stretch there where he caught fire so we went to the guy that was hot."

Azubuike also drained a trio of short jumpers, had another dunk off an assist from Chuck Hayes and finished his surge with a tip-in off Sparks' missed 3-pointer to give Kentucky a 60-26 lead with 14:53 to play.

"I tried to take what the defense gives me, and try to create something. The shots will come. You've just got to keep having confidence in yourself and do other things if you're shots not working," Azubuike said.

Those other things included grabbing nine boards to tie with Chuck Hayes and Randolph Morris for game-high honors.

"I wanted to get a lot of rebounds and help my team in that way. I tried to do that tonight and I got a couple," he said.

Hayes know for the Wildcats to be successful, they'll need more nights like this one from Azubuike.

"He got in a groove, and he felt at ease out there, not trying so hard. And that's what we need from him. We need him to step up in big ways," Hayes said. "We're going to find ways to get him shots, and when we do, we're counting on him to knock them down.

"I don't think he was pressing, I just think he was trying to get himself going. And at this level, you have to let the game come to you."

Smith not happy: For the 35th straight game, Kentucky held an opponent below 50 percent shooting as Georgia State finished 23 of 61 from the floor for 41.7 percent.

But the Panthers hit nine of 20 3-pointers in the second half, which left Smith a little less than pleased.

"We knew they were a very good 3-point shooting team. It was something we stressed in the scoring report. But I was very impressed with them when they went to their 3-point shooting game. And we did a poor job of reacting," Smith said. "We can do a better job there. Whenever you think you've got the game won, that's what can happen to you."

With Kentucky up 64-32, the Panthers nailed six threes during a 16-2 run.

"We had a group in there that seemed to not get out and protect the 3-point line. I've got to look at the tape and see if we were really challenging the shots or were we giving token pressure," the UK coach said. "You hate to have to learn a lesson like this, but that's the best teacher, experience."

Freshman report: The Kentucky freshmen had another solid outing.

Led by Randolph Morris' 14 points and team-high tying nine rebounds, the Kentucky foursome of Morris, Rajon Rondo, Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford combined to go 10 of 16 from floor - 2-for-4 from 3-point rage - and nine of 12 from the line with 14 rebounds, four steals and three assists.

Rondo went 4-for-4 from the field, 1-for-1 from long range and 3-for-4 at the line for 12 points and added two boards, three steals and an assist. Bradley came off the bench to score five points with a 3 and made both foul shots and Crawford had two rebounds and an assist.

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