November 29, 2008  

Meeks turns on the heat in Vegas against Kansas State

LAS VEGAS -- Here's how hot University of Kentucky junior Jodie Meeks was in the first half of last night's game against Kansas State at the Orleans Arena (Hotel and Casino):
He was so hot the Venetian wanted to book him for two shows today.

He was so hot the Orleans banned him from their blackjack tables.

He was so hot Bette Midler was coming to see him.

He was money, and everybody knew it.

Fourteen great minutes from Meeks -- and serviceable minutes from everyone else on UK's team -- were enough to beat Kansas State 74-72 last night, which ought to say something about the potential out there, though it's hard to ignore the problems, chiefly a season-high 31 turnovers.

But first about Meeks. He made eight baskets in the first half. Kansas State had seven. He had 24 points at halftime. Kansas State had 23. But it was more than that. He got into such a zone that it altered Kansas State's mental approach. K-State came into the game in attack mode. Those Wildcats doubled down on UK point guard Michael Porter and anyone else who dared possess the ball, and blew out to a quick nine-point lead.

But down 16-7 at the 14-minute mark, UK found some of the physical play that marked its defensive effort a year ago under coach Billy Gillispie, and put the clamps on K-State. They finished the half with a 30-7 run.

Listen to this: From the 12:34 mark to the 4:43 mark -- less than eight minutes -- Meeks scored 17 straight points. He drained a pair of NBA-range three-pointers. And in all that time, he did not miss a shot.

"We let Jodie Meeks make a couple of shots," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "And all of a sudden our guys came down and wanted to be heroes."

But it was Meeks wearing the cape. Gillispie watched the outburst with mixed emotions. He loved Meeks' play. But he also lamented that his team needed such a performance to escape.

"We didn't have anything else," Gillispie said. "He was fantastic. He's been really good, but that first-half performance was something else. That's not going to be good for the long haul, but it was good for tonight.

". . . You don't need one guy scoring 37 points if you're only scoring 74. We were very lucky to win."

In addition to his 37 points, Meeks had nine turnovers, which is the kind of leadership he doesn't want to provide. Which brings us to UK's offensive problems. Most of Meeks' turnovers came in an effort to make something happen. But the five turnovers from Perry Stevenson and six from Ramon Harris were killers.

UK took only 32 shots in the game. Kansas State took 66. Martin put his finger on the exact reason his team lost: "We were bad on offense. We turned them over 31 times, and if you do that and don't win, you've not executed. We did some dumb things, some selfish things."

And UK, in Gillispie's estimation, wasn't much better. You can probably count the number of trips in which UK scored off a set offense on one hand. When it came to offense, the Wildcats had more improv than Wayne Brady's stand-up act on The Strip.

Gillispie liked the character his team showed. And he began to see some of the physical play that he's been wanting. But there's not much offensive execution there.

"The other guys aren't presenting themselves," Gillispie said of the team besides Meeks.

One troubling statement: When asked if he had a number of people bringing the ball up the court against pressure just to find someone who was effective, Gillispie said, "No. A lot of guys didn't want to go to the ball."

Hot potato is not a good strategy for beating defensive pressure. And the Cats can figure on seeing a lot more pressure.

"We're about 1/10th in the composure department of where we need to be," Gillispie said.

Add more trouble -- that freshman point guard DeAndre Liggins refused to enter the game five minutes into the second half when called. No explanation given afterward. Liggins got a quick hook in the first half -- after only two minutes. It's hard to develop any kind of rhythm in that short a stretch. But the best way to get more minutes isn't to turn down the ones that are offered. That's a problem, because Liggins is a crucial cog.

So in Sin City, Meeks made up for a multitude of UK sins last night. But that's not going to work for long.

For about 14 minutes, when they were defending, rebounding and Meeks was hitting everything, you saw a glimpse of what the Wildcats could be. But at the moment, counting on Meeks to be all-world every night is a kind of roulette the Cats don't need to be playing.













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