Saturday, February 7, 2004

Barbour subs for hurt Fitch vs. Gamecocks

First time Kentucky alters lineup

By Murray Evans
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - The last time Kentucky's leading scorer was limited by injury, the Wildcats' basketball season ended. This time, it could hurt them as they try to seize the Southeastern Conference East division lead.

No. 9 Kentucky (15-3, 5-2) will host No. 25 South Carolina (19-3, 6-2) on Saturday with the SEC East lead at stake, but the Wildcats will be without senior guard Gerald Fitch, who leads the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game. Fitch sprained a ligament in his right (shooting) hand in the Wildcats' 68-65 win at Florida on Tuesday and is out indefinitely, Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said Friday.

Senior Antwain Barbour, who started four games last season, will replace Fitch in the starting lineup. It will be the first time this season Kentucky has altered that lineup.

Last season, when Keith Bogans was slowed by a sprained ankle in the NCAA Midwest Region final, Kentucky struggled with its chemistry and lost 83-69 to Marquette, ending a 26-game winning streak. Smith said dealing with the absence of Fitch now is markedly different from dealing with Bogans' limitations in March.

"I think we just have to get out there and make the adjustment," Smith said. "I didn't look at it (Fitch's absence) as how it's going to affect our chemistry. It's not the same. It was the playoffs, the (NCAA) tournament, final eight, we really had a lot on the line. There's a lot on the line now, but that was the end of the road (last season). At least we know we have more games."

Kentucky's health problems don't end with Fitch. Starting point guard Cliff Hawkins has a head cold, although he said Friday he felt fine. Backup point guard Brandon Stockton hasn't practiced since the Wildcats returned from Florida because of illness.

Smith said his players must fight the urge to try and make up for Fitch's absence.

"Nobody has to do more than just do their job," Smith said. "We just want them to play within themselves. The distribution is a little different because Gerald has been in the lineup, so they have to get used to it. I would hate to think they think they have to do more. They have to do what they've been doing."

Barbour started the first three games of last season before a broken hand sidelined him for more than a month. He's struggled ever since with consistency and confidence, but played his best game of the season during Kentucky's last home game, scoring 12 points in a 71-61 win over Mississippi on Jan. 28.

"It's bad the way it happened and I would hate to have it happen like this," Barbour said of moving into the starting lineup, "but I just have to go in and try to pick things up. It's a great chance for me to play and have fun. I can just relax and get into the flow of the game. That's one thing I wanted all year."

Barbour and the Wildcats will be facing a pressure defense against South Carolina. The Gamecocks, arguably the SEC's most surprising team, have limited opponents to 39.9-percent shooting this season, second-best in the league.

South Carolina won only five SEC games last season and hasn't won more than six league games in any of the past five seasons. The Gamecocks were picked in the preseason to finish last in the SEC East.

"Quite frankly, I'm excited about the game," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "To play Kentucky with something on the line instead of 'maybe we come up there and ruin their season.' Maybe we're still a spoiler. But we're a spoiler with a good record."

Smith said South Carolina reminds him of Kentucky's team last season.

"All their guys are playing with a lot of confidence," Smith said. "When you're winning and on a roll, everything seems to come easier and I think that's where they are now."

No. 9 UK vs. No. 25 S. Carolina

Tipoff: 1 p.m. today, Rupp Arena (23,000), Lexington.

Records: UK 15-3 (5-2 Southeastern Conference), USC 19-3 (6-2).

TV: Ch. 25.

Radio: WSAI-AM (1530).

Line: UK by 7 1/2.

Series: UK leads 31-5.


R. BalkmanFr.6-77.2
Carlos PowellJr.6-713.8
Kerbrell BrownSr.6-88.9
Josh GonnerJr.6-112.1
Mike Boynton Jr.Sr.6-29.3
Coach: Dave Odom (53-34, third season; 331-208 overall).


Kelenna AzubuikeSo.6-59.9
Chuck HayesJr.6-611.2
Erik DanielsSr.6-815.6
Antwain BarbourSr.6-53.3
Cliff HawkinsSr.6-18.9
Coach: Tubby Smith (179-50, seventh season; 303-112 overall)

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