Smith Sends "Message" To Morris

FAYETTEVILLE -- Kentucky coach Tubby Smith didn't want to refer to what he did Wednesday night as "a message." But that's exactly what it appeared to be.

The Wildcats were without center Randolph Morris, their leading scorer, when they took the floor against South Carolina in Rupp Arena.

Morris began the game on the bench, watching as little-used center Lukasz Obrzut started in his place. Obrzut provided a quick spark for Kentucky in the 95-89 victory, winning the opening tip and converting a three-point play on his team's first possession.

Smith didn't want to go into too many details when he was asked Thursday about his decision to bench Morris, which marked the first change Smith has made to his starting lineup in 16 games.

"There is not a whole lot I'm going to talk about. (It was a) coach's decision. We try to motivate, but there are things that we keep internally," Smith said.

"I thought Randolph responded the right way, and certainly Lukasz played well. It's a team game, and one person doesn't win or lose the game."

Morris was informed that he was getting benched during warm-ups, and he didn't enter the game until 5:13 into the first half.

When Morris finally got into the lineup, the junior played with more aggressiveness than he has shown lately. He scored 17 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds off the bench.

Obrzut, meanwhile, finished with only four points and no rebounds in 16 minutes.

But Smith didn't want to say whether his decision to bench Morris was simply a one-game punishment or something that could last longer.

"Certainly, there is always changes, whether (it's) lineup changes, substitution changes," Smith said. "I think it was not necessarily a message to be sent. It was just something that was a coach's decision to try to get (Morris) refocused on somethings that he needed to refocus on."

Close Calls

Alabama coach Mark Gottfried can let out sigh of relief -- at least for now.

Over the past week, the Crimson Tide has found a way to pull out close wins at LSU and against South Carolina and Mississippi State. The three victories were decided by a combined seven points.

"I just think it's important to find ways to get the job done, and at the end of the day, no body will remember the margins," Gottfried said. "So it's important for our team to just keep finding different ways to win a game."

That's exactly what Alabama has done.

First, forward Jermareo Davidson sank a pair of free throws with 45 seconds left to give the Crimson Tide its first lead of the second half at LSU last Wednesday. Alabama held on for a 73-70 victory.

Three days later, Alabama claimed sole possession of first place in the SEC West after edging out South Carolina 64-61 in Tuscaloosa.

And on Wednesday, point guard Ronald Steele drove the length of the court and made a layup with 6.7 seconds left to give Alabama an 80-79 win over Mississippi State.

"They never quit. They just play through different things, which I've liked," Gottfried said of his players. "They play it to the buzzer, so we've been fortunate a couple of times."

61 And Done

It's not often that a college basketball team scores 61 points in a half and still loses. But South Carolina managed to do that in Wednesday's 95-89 loss at Kentucky.

Trailing the Wildcats by 22 points at the end of the first half, the Gamecocks came out of the locker room and went on an offensive flurry.

South Carolina scored only 28 points in the first half, making just 12 baskets and missing 9-of-12 3-pointers. But the team turned it around in the second half, shooting 56.8 percent from the floor and hitting nine 3-pointers to score 61 points.

But it still wasn't enough.

"It was one of those where you had to be there to see it to understand what happened," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories