UK has had a few games to remember in recent weeks with a buzzer beater loss against Louisville, an historic individual performance against Tennessee and an all-around solid outing against Georgia. This was not one of those nights. The Cats beat the Auburn Tigers in Rupp Arena tonight in a game that was not aesthetically pleasing, but was an important victory. Going into the game, everyone from Coach Gillispie to lowly bloggers recognized that Auburn was the type of team that could give Kentucky fits. Filled with quick guards who like to get to the basket and take long threes, the Tigers had that VMI-type feel that has proven to be the Achilles Heel of Billy Gillispie in his first year and a half in Lexington. And for much of the game, Auburn played that type of style, hitting threes in bunches, getting to the basket and finding the open man. Thus with 9 minutes to go, the Tigers were up 2. But then the Cats did what they havent done in these types of games before…..they extended their defense, made the other team take more contested shots and they executed to perfection on offense. The result, a 2 point deficit turns into a 7 point lead, and the Cats are the only undefeated team in the SEC. Some notes…..
— The words get repetitive, but the theme does not. Patrick Patterson is a man. 21 points and 18 rebounds in a game where he wasnt even completely in sync offensively. Even though he struggled with his shot, and although his offensive repetoire was limited, Patterson still found a way to totally dominate a game against an SEC opponent. He owned the glass, preventing any offensive rebounds in the paint and either blocking or altering a number of shots. One hopes that his finger gets better, but even if it doesnt, he is still special.
— Oh yeah, and Jodie Meeks had a smooth 31 points as well. What Jodie is doing is simply astonishing. 31 points and you dont even think that the game was all that special! That is what is so amazing about the output we see from Meeks on a nightly basis. Everytime he shoots, I assume it is going in. I am not sure who the last player to get that reaction from me is, but once again he put points up in bunches. Good shot selection tonight and at times, I thought he should have put some more up.
— Not a great game for the Porter/Harris duo. It is interesting that often these guys’ performances mirror each other. When one plays well, the other plays well….when one struggles, the other struggles. Maybe they share a mind and heart. Whatever the case, both guys had difficulties on opposite ends of the floor. Porter was a liability on defense, and just as in the VMI type games of the past, he was simply no match for the quicker guards in the spread offense. Harris had problems offensively, turning the ball over and taking a couple of bad shots. Both guys however did finish strong and it was with them in at the end, that the Cats pulled away.
— There will be a great deal of complaints about the playing time of Liggins, Miller and Stewart, but once again, the guys made it difficult for Gillispie to keep them in. Miller finally looked like he had some flair on offense, driving to the basket and being more aggressive. But all three men were lost on defense. Stewart was not able to guard on the perimeter, Miller was a step slow of the man he was generally on and Liggins got screwed up on the switch on three straight plays, forcing Gillispie to go with Porter. The bottom line for all these guys is that when they are in, even when they look better, the team does worse. Gillispie takes them out, the team calms down and the Cats take a lead. At some point it will be up to these guys to do the little things right to stay in….and they need to, because the Cats need their talent.
— The fans decision to boo the replacement of Liggins with Porter again continues to baffle me. Porter had a tough night tonight but had played seven straight solid games. Liggins had some success tonight but also struggled on defense and made errors that directly led to baskets. Porter is often burdened with the fact that his TOs and errors are obvious (like the one that lead to the open layup). But Liggins makes errors that are more difficult for the average fan to spot, but are infuriating to the coaches. Whether you agree or not with his decisions, at this point Gillispie and Porter deserve the benefit of the doubt and the crowd really needs to lay off such displays.
— I didnt go to the game for law-related reasons, thus partaking in the Raycom telecast. Is it possible that Al Purnell buys every ad.
— Was that Lamar Alexander behind the bench?
— Deuce Finch did not attend.
— With LSU and South Carolina stealing games, the Cats are in sole place of first with two winnable games coming, at Alabama and at Ole Miss. Two road games for the Cats, against two weak Western opponents, both of which can lead to key road wins to give more distance in the conference race. You dont want to drop either of these and wins can get separation. Big games for the season as a whole.
It is hard to feel too good about the game, but a win is a win against a team with which UK didnt match up well. Not a lot to crow about, but not a loss…..in a season like this, you take it. Next come the Tide and a chance to sweep the state. For now, say a little prayer for Jeff Lebo…..he and his job need it.