Meeks shouldering the burden for the Cats

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Billy Gillispie has been watching Jodie
Meeks evolve into one of the best players in the country over the
last three months, and the Kentucky coach still has a hard time
describing exactly how important his do-everything guard has become
to his enigmatic team.
"Every team has a guy that will play the lights out all year,"
Gillispie said. "But for him to do what he has done for us all
year, he has put us on his shoulders since day one."
It's a load Meeks seems capable of bearing even though every
opposing scouting report is filled with the same message: find a
way to stop the nation's fourth-leading scorer. Meeks is averaging
25.8 points a game and has been at his best when the Wildcats
absolutely need it.
He hit a game-winning 3-pointer against Florida last week to
snap a three-game losing streak, then poured in 45 points in a
victory over Arkansas on Saturday as the Wildcats (18-7, 7-3
Southeastern Conference) cruised despite missing injured center
Patrick Patterson.
The sophomore star sat out the game with a sprained right ankle,
and Gillispie isn't sure whether Patterson will be available on
Tuesday when Kentucky travels to Vanderbilt.
"He hasn't been able to do much at all," Gillispie said.
"When he is healthy he will be able to play and practice."
Kentucky will almost certainly need him against the Commodores
(15-9, 4-6). The Wildcats beat Vandy 70-60 in Rupp Arena last
month, but the Commodores played that game without center A.J.
Ogilvy. He'll be on the floor at Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday, a
gym that the Wildcats have struggled at in recent years.
The last time Kentucky took the unique elevated floor where the
benches are behind the baseline, Vanderbilt handed the Wildcats a
41-point loss, the worst SEC defeat in school history.
"They could have beaten anyone else in the country by a large
margin that night," Gillispie said. "They were unbelievable, one
of the best performances I've seen."
To beat Vanderbilt, Kentucky might need another of Meeks'
unbelievable performances. With Patterson out, Meeks is Kentucky's
first, second and sometimes third offensive option. And that's not
good for a Wildcats team that has struggle finding a third scorer
behind Meeks and Patterson.
Freshmen Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins have shown flashes,
but have just as often made the kind of inexperienced mistakes -
quick shots, turnovers - that leads Gillispie to shake his head and
send them back to the bench.
Having a rotation that seems to be in constant flux doesn't
help. Junior Kevin Galloway played his best game of the season in
the win over Florida, making several key baskets down the stretch
to help the Wildcats win. His reward? Playing just three minutes
against Arkansas.
"The most important thing for Kevin and for us is to win," he
said. "There will be some days when he plays more than other games
just like everyone else."
Except, of course, for Meeks. Though Gillispie knows the
Wildcats have to be more than a one-man show if they want to get to
the places they've been talking about since October.
"They have to know that (Meeks) can't do it by himself," he
said. "They also have to know when he is on one of those rolls to
look for him, but not at the expense of standing around and
forgetting everything else. It would never work that way."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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