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Cats win the first one on the strip, 74-72

Don’t let the score fool you. This wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill close basketball game. This was one of the strangest up-and-down basketball games I’ve ever seen in my life. But, with the good Wildcats coming out on top, there is much joy in Lex Vegas (see, it finally makes sense UK students!).

Things looked bad for the Cats early on. In fact, it looked like the same old story all over again. Just 22 seconds into the game, they turned the ball over. Then, less than thirty seconds later, they turned it over again. And, since they say death comes in threes, the coughed it up yet again for three turnovers in 1:12 of game clock.

They looked like they were once again going to be the pensive, timid team and Kansas State came out agressive, dictating the tempo and making Kentucky look like deer in headlights. There were no offensive sets, no touches in the post for Patrick Patterson, and the guards looked like they were playing a game on the kitchen linoleum in their socks, sliding all over and rounding their steps and chopping their feet like Fred Flinstone. Kansas State got jumped out to a 16-7 lead.

But then, something happened.

They made adjustments. They set up in the UCLA 1-4 offense and combated the defensive pressure of K-State for the first time. A pass to Patterson in the high post allowed Ramon Harris to backdoor from the wing for an easy two. Then, after a defensive stop, they got the ball into the post to Patrick Patterson – seven minutes into the game! – and he scored. Then, the Cats get tough on defense and Michael Porter of all people muscles down a board. Jodie Meeks hits a three, cutting the lead to 16-14. That’s when a crowd so pro-UK, it made Bob Huggins say “How’d they get a home game?”, got into it and the Cats starting fighting back, eventually grabbing a lead that they’d never relinquish.

Porter got physical on defense and attacked his man on the drive, showing enough nastiness to make you think he was from Compton and not Modesto. Just a few seconds later, Jodie Meeks jumped the passing lane for a breakaway layup, tying the game at 16. But, on Kansas State’s next trip down, Patrick Patterson picked up his second foul and was sent to the bench.

But, the Cats wouldn’t go away. Or, at least Jodie Meeks wouldn’t.

He followed up his breakaway lay-up with a jumper for two. After KSU turned it over, he came down and got a layup. Then, after a KSU miss, Meeks came down and hit a three. After a couple of misses by both teams, Meeks stole the ball and went down for a dunk and after two more KSU misses, Meeks knocked down another three, giving UK a 28-19 lead, thanks to a one-man 17-3 run.  The star from Norcross, Ga. finished with 24 points in the first half.

After starting the game in such an awful manner, a Meeks-led Kentucky team took a 37-23 lead into the half and looked like they had a little swagger to them. It was going to be a party on the strip for UK fans tonight.

But, then, they did it all over again.

The Cats came out of the gate in the second half looking flatter than a middle schooler and looked like they’d never seen a press before. Kansas State applied some full court pressure and UK turned the ball over three times before ever crossing halfcourt, leading to six straight points for the fake Wildcats.

But, again, it looked like Coach Gillispie adjusted and got his team to calm down and go back to basic basketball fundamentals. Just like in the first half when they started looking for the back door cut against the pressure, the Cats used the run-out against the press and Patrick Patterson went down for an uncontested dunk and a 39-29 lead. The Cats would trade blows with Kansas State for the next four minutes, but five free throws, a beautiful backdoor pass from Porter to Meeks and a Darius Miller runner to get out to a 54-37 lead, their largest of the night. That’s when things got interesting.

Coming out of a timeout, Kansas State came out firing and went on a 13-2 run, highlighted (if you’re a KSU fan) by back-to-back three’s by Jacob Pullen and three of the worst turnovers I’ve ever seen in my life committed by the same Michael Porter that had me getting his back in the first half. And, that’s when things really started getting weird.

The pressure from Kansas State seemed to be getting to the Cats again, which left fans watching Patrick Patterson bringing the ball up the floor a few times, sometimes taking the ball at the top of the key and taking his man one-on-one and Perry Stevenson burning about 5 seconds of clock by trying to take his man from about four feet behind the three-point stripe. It looked like the wheels were falling off.

Kentucky proceeded to exchange one free throw on their end for a jump shot on the KSU end and giving the fake Wildcats countless attempts at scoring by not rebounding the ball on the offensive end. In two trips down the floor, Kansas State grabbed five offensive rebounds, ending the possession with a pair of free throws that would cut it to 67-63.

On the ensuing inbound play, Patrick Patterson ran out again and drew a foul. He would only hit the first free throw, giving UK a 68-63 lead. Kansas State’s Jamar Samuels would come down and score over Patterson to cut it to three with just over a minute left. After Jodie Meeks did a bad Eddie House impression on consecutive possessions, driving out of control and heaving the ball to no one in a white jersey, Kansas State’s Denis Clemente would do the same thing, giving the ball back to the Cats with just over 30 seconds left.

But, the Cats showed resolve as Michael Porter ran a beautiful pick-and-roll with Patrick Patterson, and Patterson rolled to the basket for an alley-oop from Porter to give the Cats a 70-65 lead. Kansas State would get one more lay-up and then exchanged free throws with Kentucky, resulting in a 74-69 lead for the Cats. A Jacob Pullen heave at the buzzer gave KSU 72.

Wow, that was a lot. Sorry. Ok, here are a few notes about the game:

Jodie Meeks is a freaking stud. He lit it up tonight to the tune of 37 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, and 2 assists. With Patrick Patterson on the bench and the team looking to show some signs of life, Jodie stepped up to the plate, which is what the big-time players do. His jump-shot is a thing of beauty and if any of his made shots touched rim, I’d be shocked. BUT, he does seem to get a little too anxious at times to get to the rack and tends to force things (9 turnovers tonight). This team certainly needs points from him, but it seemed at times (especially late in the second half), he was trying to do a little too much. But, just to play devil’s advocate on my own point (can you do that?), he’s also the team’s best free throw shooter and probably did the right thing by attacking a team that was in foul trouble. He just wasn’t getting the calls. Getting a feel for when to gun and when to share is something that Ramel and Joe both learned as the season went on last year and I’m sure Jodie will have no problem adjusting. He’s good.

Where in the world is Perry Stevenson? Sure, Stevenson found himself in foul trouble, but his foul troubles, just like his offensive troubles, are because of a lack of aggression. I understand that Stevenson isn’t exactly Shaq Diesel in the paint, but he can’t shy away from contact or fade away from the basket when he’s inside. Too often Perry was standing around watching his guy get offensive rebounds and the big white guy from Minnesota shouldn’t be doing that to him. However, he did have one incredible blocked shot to help squelch a KSU run. I’ll give him props for that. But, still, you’re starting power forward has to do better than 1 point and 1 rebound in 28 minutes.

Oh Michael Porter, how you break my heart. Who looks like an idiot for sticking up for Porter and has two thumbs? This guy. Porter had a great first half in my opinion. Or, as I told Matt, a great first half for him, which is kind of like being a hot chick at Duke. For the first time this season, Porter got agressive and used those guns he got over the summer to body up his man on defense and on the glass. He even went right back at Pullen and Clemente on the offensive end. But then, in the second half he looked like a totally different player with three of the worst turnovers I’ve ever seen in my life. In fact, each one was progressively worse, making me wonder what he was actually thinking. Will an amazing, only-possible-in-a-video-game-pass to Patterson make up for two previous turnovers? Probably not. Play smart and play physical, my man. Just like you did in the first half. Then I won’t look stupid – at least not over this.

Turnover: It’s as Kentucky as the Wildcat. This is something I just don’t understand. I know that in the normal flow of the game and out of aggressiveness, there will be turnovers. And Kentucky might have more than most because they’re playing a little hectic right now. But, 31 turnovers? C’mon man, this has to stop. Just to keep this in perspective, this team shot 68.8% tonight from the field and 62.5% from the three-point line….and won by two. And, that’s basically solely because of turnovers. They won’t shoot like that every game – or maybe again all year – and they’re sure as heck not going to beat anyone good turning the ball over like that.

I need some more Patrick in my life. I hate to nitpick after wins, but then again, that’s why we’re all here. Patrick Patterson hit 6 out of the 7 shots he hit tonight and had a double-double, which is certainly not a bad game. But, it just feels like he’s not part of the offense. His first touch in the post was 7 minutes into the game and, I’m not 100% certain, but I don’t think he took more than three shots from the post all game. Most of his points were coming off of drives from the top of the key or run-outs on the break. It might just be a product of the pace tonight, but I think we all would love to see more Patrick. I mean, he was promised 15 shots per game out of high school….

Gillispie’s adjusments. I think Gillispie, who has been much maligned on the message boards because of his lack of in-game adjustments, did a great job tonight of tweaking a few things. Running the back door cuts at the beginning of the game was just what the doctor ordered and the run-outs on the break were key at the start of the second half. These aren’t earth-shattering innovations, but Gillispie did a good job of getting his guys in a position to make plays and, after all, that’s what a coach is supposed to do. With Patrick Patterson on the bench, he found a lineup of Porter, Meeks, Harris, Harrellson and Stevenson that went on a 16-0 run. Even the alley-oop play was perfect for the situation. Great game for Coach. Should buy him a break from criticism until tomorrow.

 – DeAndre Liggins:  WTF?  According to Brett Dawson, the freshman from Chicago did his Scottie Pippen impression by refusing to enter the game when Gillispie tried to use him in the second half.  Gillispie seemed to shrug it off by saying he’s just really competitive and just young.  I’m sure he’ll have other things to say to him in private.  I’m not going to make a 3:30 am statement on this because nothing good can probably come of it, but I’m sure the kid wants to play – especially when he thinks he can outplay Porter.  But, there is a right way and a wrong way.  And, that’s probably the wrong way.  The Cats should be flying high after a win, not dealing with petty, high school drama.  Ooops.  I guess I just gave my opinion.

Wow, I’m really sorry I just wrote so much. And, I’m even more sorry if you read it all. All in all, a good win tonight for the Cats and let’s hope for a big double dip of wins tomorrow against Bob Huggins and Phil Fulmer. Ok, I’m off to Vegas….I think it’s the only place I can still get a drink and I need one after that post.

Article written by Thomas Beisner