Sparks never denied being in a slump or having problems. He had gone eight games without scoring in double figures before tallying 12 points in the second half at Georgia. Considering he had managed just 14 points total in the previous six games, that was a scoring explosion.
UK needs Sparks' outside shooting
However, make no mistake about it, Kentucky needs Sparks' outside shooting to put the pieces of its season back together. Remember the damage he did in games against Alabama, Louisville and Michigan State last year. Remember the game he had against West Virginia earlier this season.
With Randolph Morris back on the court, teams have to change their whole defensive philosophy if Sparks is making shots like he did the second half at Georgia.
"Sparks can make you stretch your defense more than you want," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "I think it shows how much teams respect him that he still was not getting many open looks even when he was not shooting well. Nobody wants to let him get on a roll with his shooting because if he does, he can shoot you out of a game."
Give Smith credit for sticking with Sparks. The coach has had a habit of doing that going back to Allen Edwards in the 1997-98 national championship season. Edwards was struggling midway of the season but Smith refused to take him out of the starting lineup. Edwards rewarded his coach's confidence with superb play in March.
Smith stuck with Keith Bogans early in his career when he struggled. He didn't give up on Cliff Hawkins when he hit a slump and had academic trouble. He was unbelievably patient with Gerald Fitch's off-court mishaps.
Sparks is not the most athletic backcourt player Kentucky has. Never was and never will be. But he always has been fearless and feisty, traits he lost during his eight-game slump when he went just 9-for-38 from the field - numbers Sparks probably would have believed going into the season he could have bettered if he was shooting blindfolded.
Best passer, too
Sparks is also Kentucky's best passer. Maybe not the flashiest passer, but the best at finding open players and getting the ball to them at the right time to produce baskets.
What Sparks has to do now is prove he was not a one-game wonder. He has to show Saturday that his shot is back in the face of aggressive, physical pressure he's going to get from South Carolina. He has to show he can help the Cats force a faster pace and get the ball inside to Morris.
Smith never quit believing Sparks could do those things. Now he has Sparks back believing in himself again and that's going to be a huge key in resurrecting UK's season.