Smith wants better chemistry

December 08, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Freshmen Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley seemed to give Kentucky a needed lift Saturday in the Wildcats' 91-78 loss at North Carolina.

Crawford was 4-for-8 from the field and had 11 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes of play. Bradley was 4-for-6 from the field and had 10 points and three assists in only 11 minutes before fouling out.

However, Kentucky coach Tubby Smith wanted no part Tuesday of any talk that the two might be forming a special chemistry when they come into the game together.

"They better form chemistry with the rest of the team," Smith said. "They've got to understand and trust their teammates to make plays instead of trying to do everything themselves or not looking for certain players."


Before Tuesday, Smith had indicated he was pleased with the team's chemistry. However, he obviously saw something at North Carolina that he did not like, even though he joked with WLEX-TV's Alan Cutler about footage his station ran from Saturday's game showing Randolph Morris not getting back quickly enough on defense.

"He did get beat down the court. He's got to learn to run the floor," Smith said. "But he was a freshman going against a talented, solid, all-around player. I think he got the message."

Apparently Smith has emphasized that message, along with the need for better rebounding and defense, to his team often since Saturday.

"We're not perfect right now, but we're getting better," Kentucky junior Kelenna Azubuike said. "There's always room to improve in the area of team chemistry. We're not too young of a team to win games."

"It will just take time (to develop team chemistry)," senior Chuck Hayes said. "The first four games, we were doing well. But I think the athleticism part took over. In the Carolina game, it came down to execution and we still have to work on that."

Kentucky starts that work again tonight when it hosts Morehead State (4-1), a team that coach Kyle Macy says is improving in a major rebuilding season.

"We can play with enthusiasm and pride and make a good situation out of a bad situation," Macy said.

Morehead's only double-figure scorer is senior forward Chad McKnight, who averages 16.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Guard Josh Reed, who is shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, is next at 9.6 points per game.

"They have some people that are playing well," Smith said. "These kids will come with their best effort and game."

Encouraged about rally

Smith was encouraged that his team did rally after falling behind 24-6 early in the game to trail by just seven points with four minutes to play. Kentucky did that even though Hayes, its best player, played just six minutes the first half because of foul trouble. Carolina also won the rebounding battle 51-30 and shot 40 free throws to 16 for UK.

"I was really impressed (with the comeback)," Smith said. "That was the No. 1 best thing out of the game. Our guys didn't fold and give up. They did show a lot of pride. They knew they were being overwhelmed up and down the court. We gave up 48 points on layups, they shot 40 free throws and got outrebounded by 20. It would have been easy to be demoralized."

Azubuike had a team-high 24 points on 10-for-19 shooting. He also liked the way the Wildcats came back.

"I think that shows us we're not that bad. We just need to do the things we need to do in order to be successful," Azubuike said. "We're a good team and have a lot of athletes. We should never get outrebounded."

"We have a lot of fight in us," junior point guard Patrick Sparks said. "I don't know if I would call the game a wake-up call. It was our first big test. Now we've got to come back and focus on Morehead just like we would any other game."

Smith doesn't expect any letdown tonight even though his team's next two games will be against rivals Indiana and Louisville - both at Freedom Hall in Louisville and on national TV.

"If you practice right, you play right," Smith said.

The UK coach says his new players found out for the first time Saturday about how much intensity is required at this level against the nation's top teams.

"Tomorrow will be a great barometer to measure how much we learned," Smith said.

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