- Friday, November 28 2003 -
Tennessee Tech - 81 (Head Coach: Mike Sutton) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 108 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 10th by AP and 9th by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 50, Tennessee Tech 35
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Game Writeup - Written by and courtesy of Matt May; Kentucky Sports Report, (All Rights Reserved)
Fitch's 36 ignite UK's 108-81 victory
If Gerald Fitch's shot was truly "broke" as he said after Kentucky's season opener, you can now consider it "fixed".
Fitch exploded for a career-high 36 points to lead all five starters in double-figures as the Cats ripped Tennessee Tech 108-81 in front of 21,918 fans at Rupp Arena. The victory came at the expense of former Tubby Smith and UK assistant Mike Sutton, who had his Golden Eagles close until the final eight minutes.
"(Gerald's) shot is no longer broken," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "He's been getting up extra shots. Sometimes it's a matter of getting in a rhythm or timing."
Fitch scored six points in the first four minutes of the game en route to 25 points at intermission, tying his previous career high set twice last season. He broke his mark with a jumper to start UK's second half scoring and bested 30 points on a free throw with 8:24 left. Smith then lifted Fitch from the game with 3:39 remaining to a thunderous applause.
"I've been struggling a little bit, but that was just in practice," Fitch said. "I didn't realize (I had 25) until I looked up at scoreboard at the beginning of the second half. But I tried not to look at that because I just wanted to stick to the basics."
Fitch wasn't alone in his stellar night. UK's starting five scored 99 of the 108 points and both Chuck Hayes and Cliff Hawkins had double-doubles. Hayes tallied 13 points and ripped down 13 rebounds, while Hawkins tied a career-high with 17 points and dished out 11 assists against just one turnover.
"I'm happy with it, especially the way we took care of the ball," Hawkins said.
Even though UK was playing well offensively, the Cats had difficulty slowing the slashing style of Tennessee Tech, which also placed five players double-digits. When the Golden Eagles capped a 10-2 run to close within 78-69 with 8:57 left, Smith called a timeout and put his starters back into the game.
The move ignited a 26-4 run over the next five minutes to increase the lead to 104-73 and please Smith, who was none to happy during the timeout.
"He gave it to us," Hayes said. "There was no excuse for the way we were playing. It's one thing to play hard but another to run around like a chicken with the head cut off."
From that point on, UK reminded everyone of the team that won 26 straight games a year ago, capping the night with two Matt Heissenbuttel free throws in the final minute.
Gerald Fitch drives against Tennessee Tech's Ben Jacobson
Cliff Hawkins (#1) drives on Tennessee Tech's Will Moore
Chuck Hayes (#44) and Kelenna Azubuike (#24) try to squeeze out Tennessee Tech's Ben Jacobson