LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Perhaps signaling that his team's back is now completely to the wall, Kentucky coach Tubby Smith announced Monday that wholesale lineup changes could be in store for the Wildcats' showdown Tuesday night at Florida.
When asked what role young forwards Chuck Hayes and Erik Daniels may play against the No. 5 Gators (15-3, 4-2 SEC), Smith surprised the media gathered at his pregame press conference with his response: "They may start tomorrow. It's a possibility, I think. Both have shown the eagerness and given us the energy that we need, and they've done everything we've asked them to do, as well as Marquis (Estill). We might see some changes in our lineup.
"Let's just say those three will probably start."
The plot thickened for No. 10 Kentucky (13-5, 3-3 SEC) when it was revealed that sophomore guard Gerald Fitch, a starter in 44 consecutive games dating back to the Indiana game last season, was late for a team meeting and will likely open the game on the bench as well.
Smith opted against naming a definite lineup for the game, but several players acknowledged that starting point guard Cliff Hawkins was joined by normal reserves Rashaad Carruth, Daniels, Estill and Hayes with the first team in Sunday's practice. If that holds form, it would mean senior forward Tayshaun Prince, an All-American and the team's leading scorer at 16.5 points per game, and junior guard Keith Bogans would find themselves in the unusual position of sitting at tipoff.
"It's a message that we need more energy," Smith said. "And also maybe to help people maybe look at the game a little different, for them to appreciate what they have and the opportunity they have a little bit more, to be a starter."
One of those players is clearly Bogans, the preseason Wooden All-American candidate struggling through a nightmarish season on the offensive end of the floor. After seemingly breaking out of a season-long slump with 23 points at Notre Dame and a workmanlike 13 points at Auburn, he reverted back to (unwanted) form with five points on 2-for-10 shooting in a loss to Alabama on Saturday.
Bogans is shooting just 41 percent from the field, 33 percent from 3-point range, and has been held to single-digit scoring in five of the last seven games. He's averaging only 12.3 points per game, lower than the 12.5 he posted as a freshman.
Prince is also in a mini-slump of his own, although it has been dictated more by opposing defenses double- and sometimes triple-teaming him due to the ineffectiveness of the other UK players on the floor. He was 5-for-15 from the field and 1-for-8 from long range against the Crimson Tide. He's hit just 10 of his last 35 shots and failed to reach his season average in five of the last six.
Neither Prince nor Bogans were available for comment following Monday's press conference, the first time the upperclassmen did not appear for interviews this season.
But some of the players waiting for an opportunity to prove themselves as starters were eager to comment.
"I'm excited," said Hayes, a 6-7 freshman who is averaging 4.3 points and 3.4 rebounds in only 10.6 minutes per game. "It goes to show that hard work does pay off, and coach does observe what you do on and off the court.
"If he does start me, I'll be ready, and if he doesn't, I'll keep doing what I'm doing... a lot of hustle, try to do the dirty work"
Said Daniels: "It would be good for me. I just hope to keep doing the things I have been doing -- playing hard, running the floor, getting my teammates involved."
He said he also thought it could help the normal starters regain their form.
"I think it might," Daniels said. "They'll come out with more energy trying to get their spots back."
Fitch said he expected nothing less from his colleagues, one in particular.
"Keith had the best practice I've seen since I've been here," he said. "If that's what it's going to take, that's what it's going to take."
Carruth, a freshman sharpshooter who played only eight minutes against Alabama due to what Smith explained Monday as missing a class, said the UK coach mentioned possible changes on Sunday. "He didn't really say who, but he told us that's the way it's going to be, and if you don't like it, you can leave."
Senior point guard J.P. Blevins, who has been working his way back from a broken wrist and may be available sometime this week, said the benched players can learn from the experience.
"I think you can react two ways," said Blevins, who lost his starting job to Hawkins earlier this season. "You can go around feeling sorry for yourself, or you can go out on the court with something to prove, play as hard as you can and try to win it back."
Estill, a former starter averaging 10.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in only 16 minutes per game, will likely get the nod at center over Jules Camara, who has been ineffective in recent weeks. His bulk figures to be more effective against the Gators' Udonis Haslem than his slender teammate from Senegal.