- Monday, December 1 2003 -
(at Cincinnati, OH)
Kentucky - 89 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 9th by AP and 3rd by ESPN/USA Today]
Marshall - 76 (Head Coach: Ron Jirsa) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 47, Marshall 34
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Tennessee Tech 108 - 81|||||UCLA 52 - 50|
Game Writeup - Written by and courtesy of Matt May; Kentucky Sports Report, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats survive comeback bid; Fitch shines again
CINCINNATI, Ohio - For the second straight game, Gerald Fitch's scoring carried Kentucky to victory, but the best thing to come out of the Cats' 89-76 win over Marshall might have been the rebirth of Antwain Barbour.
Fitch poured in 10 clutch points during a four-minute stretch when Marshall began to close on UK's large lead, exciting the U.S. Bank Arena crowd of 13,913, then Barbour made his presence felt with two buckets and a defensive stop to turn back the Thundering Herd.
"Antwain was huge tonight," sophomore Kelenna Azubuike said. "He's a great player and he helped us out in a lot of ways. He just still has a little rust on him."
Despite Barbour and Fitch's performances, UK found themselves in a battle with Marshall, who were coached by former Tubby Smith assistant Ron Jirsa. The Cats opened up a 14-point lead early in the second half, but Ronny Dawn and Luther Whitted kept Marshall in the game with scorching hot shooting, at one point closing the gap to four at 64-60.
Fitch and Barbour then took over and the Cats' turned up the defensive pressure, holding Marshall scoreless over the final 4:40 of the game, a spell which saw the Herd miss their final six three-point attempts after hitting 10-of-16 to that point.
The Cats were able to hold on because of a 21-5 edge in points of turnovers, but Smith said UK's near collapse could be traced to defensive stalwart Chuck Hayes going to the bench with three fouls at the 17:30 mark.
"In the first half, we were doing good things, but when Chuck got in foul trouble we had a drop in our intensity level," Smith said. "That's something we are concerned with."
Another worry is he Cats' post defense, which was not near what Smith expects from his tenacious group. UK allowed Marshall to shoot 45.2 percent from the field, including scoring 30 points in the paint.
"We haven't played post defense yet," Smith said. "A lot of it has to do with our lack of size, but we are not getting down there (on traps) like we should. That's why we play, to learn and get better."
One thing Smith need to not concern himself with is the play of Fitch, who hit his season average with 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting. The senior guard also ripped down six rebounds, a part of his game that had lagged a little in the past year. Fitch said once he got into a rhythm, he felt like he was hitting everything he tossed up.
"It's just a feeling you get," Fitch said. "For me, when I hit a few, I feel like I can't miss."
Fitch did get help though, as Azubuike tallied 16 points and seven rebounds, while homecoming boy Erik Daniels added 14 points and four assists. While the starters once again ruled (all played at least 27 minutes), Barbour might make Smith feel a little better after he scored 11 points and had two steals.
"Patience is the key," Barbour said. "I felt very comfortable. The key is to never forget how much fun the game is."
Although UK might have won ugly, the Cats most certainly will take the win, their 23rd consecutive regular season triumph.
Gerald Fitch eyes the basket
Erik Daniels dunks
Marshall's Ronny Dawn looks to pass around Gerald Fitch