I thoroughly enjoyed that game. Coming off a season-saving win at Rupp, and without their inside warrior Patrick Patterson, the Cats could have easily laid an egg in Fayetteville today on national television. Instead, Jodie Meeks went wild, the role players stepped up and the Cats produced a top 5 defensive performance to beat the Hogs. This is exactly the kind of game that UK needs in order to pull out victories with Patterson out of the lineup. Meeks did what Meeks will have to do…..score points in buckets and the role players did what they have to do…..contribute without being a negative. In the process they made John Pelphrey’s team look like what they are…..young, inexperienced and mistake prone…..and that not only includes the players, it includes their redhead coach on the sidelines as well. It was a great win and one that should be a prelude to a Big Blue Valentine’s Night.
— Any storyline about the game obviously begins with Jodie Meeks. While Jodie forced some shots late, the first 25 minutes of today’s game was as good a performance as college basketball has seen this year. With the defense totally keyed on Meeks and basically allowing ANYONE else to score, Meeks still found a way to score 30, while only missing two shots….one of which was a halftime heave from 3/4 court. The two threes he hit at the beginning of the second half, one of which made a guy fall down and the other spurred by a crossover that was Jordan-esque, should be mandatory watching for any young player trying to learn how to create a shot. Both made Rafferty and Brando (whose “Jodie, Jodie, Jodie” reference showed just how old he is….and I am for getting it and laughing), scream with delight and had me jumping out of my chair. At this point it is becoming commonplace, but we really shouldnt take for granted just how good Meeks really is. His offensive ability is unparalled in recent UK guard history and his defense is stellar as well. A treat to watch on all levels.
— A huge amount of credit should go to the UK halfcourt defense, which in my view was a top 2 or 3 of the year game. Patrick Patterson is a defensive force, and considering that he was out tonight, it would have been expected to see some defensive breakdowns. However that really didnt happen. Playing much of the game with a Porter-Meeks-Miller-Harris-Stevenson lineup, the Cats shortened the height but ramped up the athleticism and length on the Arkansas shooters…..and accordingly, they struggled. The rotations off the dribble, which are such an intregal part of Gillispie’s system were crisp and on time….as was the defensive rebounding. If you want to point to the unsung stat of the night, point to Ramon Harris and Darius Miller’s rebounding. Between those two guys, they pulled down 15 boards. Considering that their positioning usually meant they were the ones who had to get the offside rebound, no stat accounted more for UK’s defensive success tonight than that one.
— Along those lines, you do have to give praise to the Razor tonight. Ramon had 7 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists….and could have had two more of the latter if not for Perry Stevenson’s hands of puddy. He played EXCELLENT defense (I think his best of the year) and showed dramatic improvement from what had been a four game stretch that was beyond bad. Harris did not leave the floor in the second half for good reason…..his defense was rock-solid and with the exception of a poor decision to take three consecutive shots at the end of the first half, didnt do anything to hurt the team. People are very hard on Razor because of the offensive end, but they dont focus on a kid who is the best on the ball defender on the team and plays tremendous help defense as well. Tonight was a great game for Razor (Gillispie said afterwards that it may be his best overall of his career) and one for which he should be applauded.
— Having said that, one does wonder where Galloway was tonight. After winning on the road by 16 without Patrick Patterson, it is hard to complain but not seeing Galloway get more than 3 minutes was a bit bizarre. When he played, he had a couple of defensive breakdowns, but also made a good drive to the basket that led to a score. Even if the Cats didnt NEED him tonight (which is true), Gillispie should have given him more run to reward him for the Florida game. With a lineup of Porter, Meeks, Miller, Harris and Stevenson, Galloway could have spelled Porter, Miller or Meeks more than he did. That was disappointing.
— I also have to give a shout out to Darius Miller for what was probably his best defensive effort of the year. All along this year, the coaches of wanted to see Miller on the floor….they know he has loads of offensive potential, as his drive and dunk showed, but his defensive lapses have made it impossible to play him. Gillispie’s system is built on a TEAM defense that requires full knowledge before it can be utilized….one man messes up and the whole defense falls apart. Against Florida at the end and tonight, Miller looked more comfortable and made fewer errors than I can remember. GREAT game for the young man who is gaining confidence by the day.
— Also a good effort by Michael Porter, whose 8 early points, made the Arkansas defense respect him for the rest of the game. Even though he didnt score again, a defender had to deal with him….opening up space for Meeks and the others. If Michael takes up a defender (unlike against South Carolina and Mississippi State), that is a huge plus.
— Finally, a huge shout out to Gillispie for a well-coached effort tonight. While I dont understand the lack of PT for Galloway, I do understand that Gillispie noted what it would take for Arkansas to win…..Rotnei Clarke hitting threes and Washington patrolling the paint. He stopped both by putting unconventional defenders on Washington….at times Stevenson, at times Harrellson and at times Harris. With each Washington could have a different advantage, but the constant switching made it tough for the Hogs to identify matchup advantages. And after a couple of early Clarke makes, Gillispie took Porter off Rotnei and gave him Meeks and Miller. He really was rarely heard from again. While I like John Pelphrey and think he has a great future….maybe one day a Big Blue future….those that think he should be on the UK sidelines today, learned a lesson in who is superior at this point.
A GREAT win for the Cats that all should celebrate. Jodie is amazing and 45 tonight makes this a game to keep in the archives. Big win…..and I didnt have to be an Enforcer on anyone. Cant beat that….