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BENCH COMES UP BIG FOR CATS

Date story published: Monday, January 26, 2004

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- For a team with a well-chronicled depth problem, Kentucky had a strange-sounding strategy yesterday: Wear down Notre Dame.

But thanks to Josh Carrier and Lukasz Obrzut, the strategy worked.

Carrier, who had made only two three-point shots all season, equalled a career high with two more in the Cats' 71-63 victory over Notre Dame. Obrzut scored two baskets, and more importantly gave UK a big body to throw at Notre Dame's bulky front line.

Led by Carrier and Obrzut, Kentucky's bench outscored Notre Dame's reserves 12-4. That marked only the third time all season that UK has enjoyed such an advantage. And in the two earlier games (against Indiana and UCLA), Kentucky's substitutes made only four of 20 shots (zero of seven from three-point range).

"We got positives out of everybody," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "Even Sheray (Thomas) and Bobby (Perry). Those guys have been playing well in practice. They got an opportunity to show us some things."

Carrier credited opportunity for his season-high six points.

"Coach is playing me more and more," he said. "The more minutes I get, the more comfortable I'll be."

It also helps, Carrier said, that he's establishing himself as a backup at more than one position: point guard and, against Notre Dame, the wing.

"It feels good," he said. "It helps me get into the flow of the game."

Carrier cited a benching at Tennessee earlier in the week for his assertive shooting here.

"Coach is giving me the green light," he said. "If I'm open, I'm going to shoot it. He made it clear when he took me out of the Tennessee game because I didn't take an open shot. He said that's why I'm in the game."

If Carrier's contributions came as a surprise, Smith said it was only a belated one.

"I expected Josh to do this a long time ago," the UK coach said. "That's why we sign any player into the program. Getting a guy to come in and relax, it takes time."

'Woo' an asset

Obrzut's play, which included two rebounds and a steal, surprised Notre Dame point guard Chris Thomas.

"The surprise to me was the big Polish kid," Thomas said. "He played great. Very poised and collected. He's a great asset because of his length and size."

Thomas contained

Kentucky continued its mastery of Thomas, a former McDonald's high school All-American and the first Indiana Mr. Basketball to play for Notre Dame.

Thomas made only seven of 20 shots, which brought his career shooting against the Wildcats to 15-for-52.

He made only two of nine three-point attempts, which made him 6-for-28 beyond the arc against the Cats. His three-game totals against UK also include 17 assists and 18 turnovers.

"I played a lot better this time," said Thomas, who applauded the play of UK point guard Cliff Hawkins.

"Hawkins, he's a great competitor. Very competitive. I enjoy playing him. I respect him a lot. I respect him and (Gerald Fitch) a lot.

"If I could play against them every game, I'd be 10 times the player I am now."

Whoops

Kentucky won for the 11th straight time on an opponent's home court. In explaining the Cats' success away from home, Smith inadvertently brought chuckles to his post-game news conference.

"On the road, we don't worry about all the externals," the UK coach said. "Who's coming to the game: the girlfriend, the sister, the daughter."

After the media chuckles subsided, Smith said players don't worry about getting tickets for road games.

Etc.

Notre Dame fell to 0-4 against ranked teams. . . . Notre Dame's informational packet to reporters included the box score of the Irish's 71-70 victory over UCLA that snapped the Bruins' 88-game winning streak in 1974. The box score revealed that three UCLA starters played all 40 minutes: Bill Walton, Keith Wilkes and Pete Trgovich. The two other starters -- Tommy Curtis and Dave Meyers -- played 36 minutes each.

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