Friday, February 27, 2004

More mature Hawkins key to Wildcats' success

The Associated Press

Sophomore Kelenna Azubuike (24) says Cliff Hawkins makes Kentucky better because he gets the offense going.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/GARY LANDERS

LEXINGTON - Cliff Hawkins says Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith no longer has to say anything to him to communicate. Which can be a good thing and a bad thing, Hawkins said.

"He knows how to get your attention and he can just give you a look and you know what you have to do," Hawkins said of Smith. "Over the years, I know what those certain looks mean."

Smith acknowledges that he's sometimes tougher on Hawkins than on other players, for two reasons: Hawkins is a senior and he's the Wildcats' point guard.

Smith alternately has criticized and complimented Hawkins at times this season, and Hawkins is used to receiving the brunt of Smith's ire when the Wildcats don't fare well.

"A lot is expected out of you and all the times you don't do what's expected out of you, you hear about it," Hawkins said.

As he has throughout his career, Hawkins struggles with his shooting - he has hit 41.8 percent from the field this season and has a career shooting percentage of 40.4 percent. He also has been careless with the ball at times, committing five or more turnovers in a game five times this season.

Still, Hawkins has bailed out No. 9 Kentucky (20-4, 10-3 Southeastern Conference) on a handful of occasions this season. Smith and his teammates say Hawkins' improved play is a major reason the Wildcats have won three straight games and played what Smith says is their best basketball of the season.

"He's the point guard," sophomore swingman Kelenna Azubuike said. "If he can get us into our offense effectively and distribute the ball well, that's definitely a plus for the team."

Hawkins' late 3-pointer at Tennessee got the Wildcats into overtime in a Jan. 20 game they eventually won 69-68. His 11-assist, no-turnover game against Arkansas Feb. 18 was a primary reason for Kentucky's 73-56 win. At Auburn on Saturday, he scored eight of his 10 points during the final 5:14 as Kentucky closed the game with a 19-10 run en route to a 68-59 win.

His 15-point, seven-assist outing helped Kentucky rout Tennessee 92-60 Wednesday.

Hawkins averaged 11 minutes a game as a freshman before breaking into the starting lineup as a sophomore. Academic troubles sidelined Hawkins for the first semester of his junior season, and by the time he returned, he'd lost his starting job. He adjusted to his sixth-man role and helped the Wildcats win 26 straight games en route to a 32-4 finish.

"One thing I appreciate about Cliff is how he has matured," Smith said. "He has really grown up a lot. ... He's going to be missed because he brings so much to the table."

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