UK's 77-58 win over Tennessee represented the Cats' most-complete game of the season, if not the one of the best in the Billy Gillispie era. What made the performance so good was Gillisipe didn't need a 54-point outburst from Jodie Meeks to pound the Vols.
Instead, the return of Patrick Patterson, who is recovering from a sprained ankle, and the emergence of freshman Darius Miller, bouyed the Cats. Meeks scored 14 points, nearly a dozen below his average, but was held in check for the game, failing for the first time this season to hit a three-pointer.
The result was the most-balanced scoring game of the season for the Wildcats. Eight players scored, including MIchael Porter, whos' nine points tied a personal best against an SEC opponent. Patterson was solid after missing two games. Patterson scored 19 points and hauled in five rebounds. Patterson's two thunderous dunks signaled a return to form.
But it was Miller who stole the show. Scoring on a variety of jumpers and drives, the freshman from Maysville tallied a career-high 17 points, going a perfect six for six from the field, including three three-pointers. Miller played with poise and an ease Wildcat fans hadn't seen thus far.
"That's the Darius Miller we recruited," Gillispie said afterward.
Of UK's 28 field goals, 23 involved assists, an extradordinary ratio by any measure.
Vols in shambles
Tennessee now is a mere shadow of the much-hyped preseason team that many picked to win the SEC and possibly make a run at the national championship. The Vols fall to 16-10, and barring some miracle, will become one of the biggest busts this season, failing to make the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Bruce Pearl said afterward that his team quit on him. It's been a long time since any of us around here have heard a coach publicly take his team to task as Pearl did Saturday afternoon. For a team loaded with athletic talent, there appears to be no chemistry. Instead, it's a misfit group of five individuals, none of whom are on the same page.
Patterson available for Vandy?
After injuring his ankle against Floriday, Patrick Patterson missed two games -- a win at Arkansas and a loss at Vanderbilt. Thanks to a 45-point performance by Jodie Meeks in Fayetteville, Patterson wasn't necessarily missed.
However, the Cats sorely missed Patterson's inside presence against the Commodores. The Cats were pounded on the glass (37-26) and gave up 18 second chance points.
Word is Patterson was cleared to play in Nashville. Sources say Patterson's ankle was 95 percent healed, but instead, he and his father decided it would be best to sit out the game. While Billy Gillispie said all along that Patterson wouldn't return until he was 100 percent healthy, I don't think that was meant to be taken literally.
The decision sends mixed signals, at best. Are the Pattersons more interested in protecting or enhancing Patrick's draft status than winning an important conference matchup at Vandy?
Clearly, there were no guarantees that the Wildcats would have won had Patterson been in the lineup.
Cats travel to Columbia
Up next for Kentucky: South Carolina on Wednesday. The Gamecocks, under first-year coach Darrin Horn, knocked off the Wildcats in Rupp Arena back on Jan. 31.
Despite getting 48 points out of Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks, the Cats couldn't contain USC's guards, specifically Devan Downey, down the stretch. Downey fired in the game-winner with :05 remaining, giving Horn, the Lexington native, his first win as a head coach in Rupp Arena.
For my money, Horn is the clubhouse leader in the SEC's race for Coach of the Year honors. Yes, I know, LSU and first-year coach Trent Johnson already have won the SEC West, but they haven't had to play nearly as brutal conference schedule as does South Carolina.
Horn has his team tied for first in the East, having already defeated Florida and Kentucky, the other two schools at the top of the standings. At 19-6, the Gamecocks are poised to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.
The Cats traditionally have played well in Columbia -- UK has won six of the last eight games played there. With possible a first-place tie on the line, this will be one of the most important games of the season.
With an assist from SB, those are the highlights... stay tuned.