LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Gerald Fitch in a slump?
Sure, says Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, before suggesting "So what."
The Wildcats' starting "2" guard has struggled to find his shooting touch since dazzling fans and teammates alike with a 31-point effort in the annual Blue-White Game, hitting only 43 percent overall and a puzzling 21 percent from 3-point range.
Fitch, a sophomore from Macon, Ga., led Kentucky in 3-point shooting last season at 41 percent.
"I'm still trying to find my shot," he said Tuesday as the No. 6 Cats (8-2) prepared for Wednesday's matchup with Tulane (8-2) at Freedom Hall in Louisville. "But I think the best way for me to come out of this slump I'm in is to keep shooting. That's what I'm going to try to do, get myself out of it.
"I've been staying after practice late and putting in the extra shots, doing the things I need to do to get my shot back. Hopefully, it's going to come around."
His coach, however, isn't in a hurry. A testament to Fitch's attitude and work ethic, Fitch is still averaging 7.1 points per game, 5.1 rebounds and is tied with Cliff Hawkins for the team lead in steals with 12.
Those numbers have helped make him a fan favorite among the Kentucky faithful.
"We're scoring 85 points a game, so I don't need anybody else to score any points," Smith said. "If we score 85 points a game, we win every game from here on out. So what I need (Fitch) to do is do what he's doing: play great defense like he did against (Louisville's Reece) Gaines, and we'll have a great year. And that's what he's willing to do. That's a role that Gerald understands if I continue to do this, I'll continue to play, and play a lot of minutes."
Fitch said it didn't take him long to learn the fastest route to playing time under Smith.
"As soon as I got here," he said. "You have to play defense first, and you have to rebound. Actually, coach told me that when he came to recruit me."
Since entering the Kentucky tarting lineup last year against Indiana, Fitch has started 36 straight games and developed a reputation as both the team's defensive stopper and perhaps the nation's best rebounder inch-for-inch. At 6-foot-3, he's third on the team in total rebounds (51) and offensive rebounds (22) to the significantly taller Tayshaun Prince and Keith Bogans.
In Saturday's 82-62 win over Louisville, Fitch scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds and helped hold Gaines (20 ppg) to a season-low 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting from the floor.
"Effort and energy," Smith cited as Fitch's best attributes.
"I always knew I could play defense, but I didn't think I would be that big on it in college," said Fitch, who admitted he didn't play much defense in high school. "But in college, you've got to fight and scrap for whatever you can get."
Smith said Fitch, who came to UK billed as an explosive scorer, can still be that kind of player. But he knows the soft-spoken Fitch won't force the action.
"We want guys to score. As long as they're taking good shots out of our offense, we're happy," he said. "But it's good to have someone understanding their role, understanding you have a position on the team and what the team needs. That's so critical with any organization, identifying what are the needs, what can I contribute to this program. And it usually takes a long time for them to recognize that, some longer than others. Not to just understand that, but to actually do it."
"That's my game," Fitch said. "...And I don't think I have to score a lot right now. Next year with Tayshaun and Keith gone, or whoever, they may need me to score more. But right now, I'm doing the things that are helping the team win. If I score, I score."
Smith sees the offensive game picking up soon: "He's starting to shoot the ball better," noting the main problem this season has been a mechanical flaw with Fitch's right elbow. "He's working pretty hard in practice, he led us in 3-point percentage last year, and I think he will this year too."