Well after eight hours of live blogging yesterday, it was hard to get the necessary momentum to post a game recap last night. But that is what Sunday is for and we do have to give it up for another great performance by the Cats in Rupp. While this season is at times resembling a Michael Porter three pointer (either an airball or nothing but net), there can be almost no one who would have a serious complaint about the performance by the Cats yesterday. Essentially playing a 6 man rotation, the Cats took it to the Vols in a game that is widely being hailed as the low point of the Bruce Pearl era. The Cats jumped out to a 13-0 lead and thoroughly dominated the game on virtually every aspect but one. And if it were not for that one aspect (the 20 offensive rebounds brought in by Tennessee), you could make the case that the Vols may not have broken 30 in the point column. The Cats were great and it was a joy to watch.
— There are lots of accolades to give, but if Saturday showed us anything it is just how great the benefit is when Patrick Patterson is in the lineup. Some of Patrick’s abilities are obvious…..he led the team in scoring with 19 points and dominated on both the offensive and defensive end. But what is not quite as easy to detect is how his presence forces a defender to commit to him, allows perimeter guys to guard their men closer knowing his rotation is backing them up and the confidence he instills in the other guys. Billy Gillispie talked about the latter aspect in the postgame press conference and noted how when Patterson is amped, the other guys are amped….and when he has belief, the other guys have belief. The Cats can win a game without Patrick from time to time….but they cant be dominant without his presence and leadership that he illustrated on Saturday.
— Tennessee did very few things well on Saturday, but they did put somewhat of a clamp on Jodie Meeks. However Meeks responded by setting up others, and the diamond and one look he received helped other players show up for huge games. Even though Meeks was only 4-12 from the field, he didnt force shots and was able to find his teammates for open looks. In so doing, he did exactly what he will have to do for the team to succeed when he sees these “junk” defenses. Plus, his defense was once again stellar, causing Gillispie to say afterwards that even though he didnt score 54, “Jodie still had a great game.”
— Besides the obvious win, the big story of the game was the breakout play of Darius Miller. Miller went 6-6 from the field for 17 points and 6 assists for a line that was an impressive as any we have seen all season. The great thing about Miller’s game is that he did it on both ends throughout the entire contest. He shot the ball with confidence, he found the open teammate and he continued his rapid defensive improvement that caused Gillispie to joke afterwards that he had shed his former nickname of “Arius” because he played no “D”. Miller was great and his performance caused Gillispie to suggest that maybe, just maybe, he is the third scorer that we all have waited for. The key however is this….if he continues to play defense like he did on Saturday, he will get his chances. And it looks like it is becoming Darius time at exactly the right time.
— A solid performance by the Porter/Stevenson/Harris trio in coming in and making the Vols pay for their gimmick defense on Meeks. These guys combined to go 7-11 from the field, which was huge, especially early in the game. With Perry’s 2 early jumpers, Harris’ early three and then the three big threes by Porter, the Vols were left unable to completely bog down their defense on Meeks and Patterson, causing both guys (but especially Patrick) to be able to get more space as the game went on. There is no underestimating just how crucial these performances and shots are in the flow of a game and all three guys played well in composing the final parts of the main rotation for tonight.
— Not a lot of clock for the Liggins/Galloway/Harrellson trio off the bench. All three guys played under eight minutes, although Liggins was singled out by Gillispie as having played very well in his second stint on the court in the second half. Last season Gillispie talked about how good teams have 7-8 man rotations when they enter the NCAA Tournament. I think it is now clear that the Cats will have six men for certain….Patterson, Meeks, Stevenson, Harris, Porter and Miller….will one or two of the other guys step up and enter the conversation consistently? They have four games to make their presence felt.
A great victory for the Cats as we move towards the Game of the Year in my view…..at South Carolina. Win and the SEC East title may come back to Lexington and a tournament berth is firmly within the Cats’ grasp. Lose and the SEC title is likely gone and the LSU game becomes more crucial than any would have imagined to hit the Big Dance. But thats still a few days away….for now, enjoy two beatdowns of the Vols……thats not so bad is it?