LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Gerald Fitch’s shot isn’t broken any more.
Fitch scored a career-high 36 points and Kentucky’s starters fueled a late 26-4 run to lead the 10th-ranked Wildcats past Tennessee Tech 108-81 Friday night.
The win was Kentucky’s 22nd straight during the regular season and its 13th straight at home.
Kentucky (2-0) led the Golden Eagles 78-69 with 8:47 left when coach Tubby Smith called a timeout and put his five starters back in the game. When the starters returned to the bench with 3:28 left, Kentucky led 104-73.
The starters—Fitch, Cliff Hawkins, Erik Daniels, Kelenna Azubuike and Chuck Hayes—combined to score 99 points. Hawkins finished with 17 points and 11 assists (both career highs) while Hayes had 13 points and 13 rebounds. Daniels scored 17 points, while Azubuike had a career-high 16.
“Whenever we want to, we can turn it on against anyone,” Daniels said.
Kentucky scored more than 100 points in a game only twice last season, when the Wildcats finished 32-4. The last time all five Kentucky starters scored in double figures was last February in an 80-68 win over Tennessee.
“Gerald was on. The starters were calling plays for him,” Smith said. “We do need to get better production from our bench.”
Fitch’s previous career high was 25 points, which he had last season against North Carolina and IUPUI. He matched that total in the first half, making 10 of 15 shots. Fitch was the first Kentucky player to score 30 or more points in a game since Tayshaun Prince scored 41 in a NCAA tournament win over Tulsa in 2002.
In Kentucky’s season-opening win over Winthrop last Friday, Fitch struggled with his shooting, making just two eight shots and scoring 12 points. That prompted him to say that “my shot is broken.”
It apparently got fixed.
“I had confidence in myself like always,” Fitch said. “I got in a groove like MJ (Michael Jordan).
“I did have games where I made a lot of shots, but I just never took that many,”
Fitch, who finished 14 of 20 from the field, including 5 of 11 from 3-point range, scored eight points in a 10-2 first-half run that pushed Kentucky’s lead to 15 points with four minutes left. Kentucky led by 17 points with 11:32 left, but Tennessee Tech (2-1) pulled within nine on consecutive 3-pointers by Willie Jenkins.
Jenkins and Keyon Boyd scored 18 points each to lead Tennessee Tech, which finished third last season in the Ohio Valley Conference.
The Golden Eagles are coached by Mike Sutton, who spent nine seasons as an assistant for Smith at Tulsa, Georgia and Kentucky before taking the Tennessee Tech job prior to last season. The crowd of 21,918 at Rupp Arena cheered for Sutton when he was introduced before the game.
“Tubby didn’t tell you, but I was Gerald Fitch’s shooting coach,” Sutton said. “So I’ll take some of the blame for that, and some of the credit. You don’t want to see someone go for 36, but he earned them.”