Date story published: Thursday, January 29, 2004
After a career that went from Prince to pauper, Antwain Barbour knew Kentucky fans had all but given up on him.
How could Barbour not know? He had nearly two seasons to read the never-shy Rupp Arena crowd.
"You can just tell," he said. "When I come out of games, you hear people saying things, things you shouldn't listen to."
Barbour also read newspaper accounts that chronicled his failure not only to replace departed star Tayshaun Prince, but even to dent box scores as a Wildcat.
"In the press, you all write things," he said. "It all adds up."
Sweet redemption -- or what sounded like retribution -- came last night as Barbour shot Kentucky to a 71-61 victory over Mississippi. Having made one of 13 three-point shots this season, Barbour hit a career-high four treys in a 12-point performance.
"Some of the fans may have lost confidence in me," Barbour said. "Now they know."
Although Barbour and his teammates feinted nonchalance at this sudden starburst, Mississippi Coach Rod Barnes acknowledged the surprise. The Rebels played the percentages in the program's attempt to win at Kentucky for only the second time since 1927: Key the defense on UK's proven scorers and let players like Barbour, averaging 2.6 points, try to win it.
"Antwain Barbour was a big difference in the game," Barnes said. "We didn't want to lose the game with (Gerald) Fitch and (Chuck) Hayes. We picked the wrong guy tonight."
Mississippi blanketed Hayes with double teams inside. That freed Kentucky's other forward, Erik Daniels, to score a career-high 24 points.
Ole Miss tilted its perimeter defense to Fitch, the Cats' leading scorer (16.5 points per game) and top three-point shooter (40 treys).
"Against a team like this, you have to take chances somewhere ... ," Barnes said. "Barbour hit a couple. After that, he was feeling it. ... After the first two, we wanted to defend him. The first two, you could say the coach gave them to him.
"Antwain did what Tubby (Smith) needed. He made some shots."
Barbour did not start well. After entering the game with 13:54 left in the first half, he missed badly on his first three-point attempt. On the next possession, he missed a contested layup on a fast break.
"Sometimes, you have a tendency to not necessarily give up," Smith said of Barbour's stumbling start.
"Tonight, he was ready and he had to step up because Kelenna (Azubuike) was struggling."
Barbour saw significance in his first three-point bucket, which came with 10:11 left in the first half.
"After I made the first one, I knew I was going to have a great game," he said.
Yet, more potential discouragement came on the next UK possession. Fitch threw a long outlet pass on a fast break that Barbour strained to chase down. He reached the ball only to fumble it off his foot out of bounds.
"He's always upbeat," Smith said of Barbour's ability to persevere. "He's one of those kids with a great smile. He's got a great air about him. The kids love him. We all love him. Everybody wants him to do well."
Finally, everybody got their wish. Barbour hit another three two possessions later. That enabled him to equal his UK career high in a two-minute span.
Barbour added two more three-pointers in the second half, each significant in a game that saw Kentucky make just eight shots outside the paint.
"My confidence is going to be sky high," Barbour said. "No matter how many shots I miss. I've got to stay that way. I can't get sad. I can't get down. I have a great life. God is always going to be with me."
Fitch vouched for Barbour's ability to stay confident in the face of discouragement that had hit Joe Lieberman-size depths.
"If I was going through what he did, having tough games, I know I'd love my confidence," Fitch said. "I never on any day sensed Antwain lose his confidence.
"So it's no surprise to me that he played and did well. If anything, it's a surprise that he didn't do even more."
With Kentucky starved for bench production, Barbour's play carried long-range implications.
"I've been trying to do it all year," Barbour said. "Like every team, we need a bench for us to go a long way."