February 14, 2009  

'Relentless' Meeks entering rare air
By John Clay - jclay@herald-leader.com

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It might be beyond belief were we not seeing it with our own eyes, the way the numbers climb like a telethon tote board — up, up and away.
Game, after game, after game.

Almost a month ago to the day, Jodie Meeks threw in a school-record 54 points in a Kentucky victory at Tennessee.

Saturday at Arkansas, the remarkable junior scored 45 in UK's 79-63 win over the Razorbacks in Bud Walton Arena.This one might have been better.

"I've not ever seen anything like what he's done for our team this year," said UK Coach Billy Gillispie afterward, "because we've needed it so badly."

On this Saturday, the Cats were minus Patrick Patterson. The sophomore center was shelved by that sprained right ankle. No Patterson meant no inside game to open Meeks' outside. No low-post game, no paint presence.

Others helped fill the gap on defense (Perry Stevenson's five blocked shots) and on the glass (Ramon Harris' nine rebounds), but no one filled the scoring gap, but Meeks. He came in averaging 25. He left having scored 45.

There may be better all-around players in the country, maybe even in his conference, but no player has given his team what it needed when it needed it the way Meeks has for this UK team.

Gillispie summed it up well: "He is relentless."

Saturday was the 17th game this season in which Meeks has scored 20 or more points. It was the seventh game in which he's scored 30 or more. It was the third time in which he's scored 40 or more.

Players just don't do that anymore. They don't. Not players from major conferences. The defenses are too good. The scouting is too complete. You might score 50 on Division II Overmatched State in one of those November non-conference guarantee games. But you don't do it against conference foes you face year after year. They know your every play. They know your every move. Meeks has done it twice.
That's the thing that makes his accomplishments different from the great Dan Issel's accomplishments back in '70s. Issel didn't have the benefit of the three-pointer. Granted. But there wasn't the video study then there is now. There weren't the meticulous scouting reports. Back then, as Issel told USA Today on Friday, the players played. Now, the coaches control.

We thought maybe Ole Miss's coach had cracked the code back on Jan. 27 in Oxford. Andy Kennedy's Rebels held Meeks to 21 — held to 21 — that night and celebrated an 85-80 upset win. That was the start of a three-game Kentucky skid in which Meeks was but 15-of-41 from the floor. A lull, we'll call it.

Then Tuesday, against Florida, Meeks was just 6-of-18 from the field when, the game tied, the game clock at 4.7, the shot clock at two, the Gators' Nick Calathes in his grill, Meeks nailed an off-balance laser that gave the Cats a spine-tingling 68-65 win.
Then Meeks told Florida Coach Billy Donovan, "I hit a lucky shot."

There were no "lucky" shots at Bud Walton. Meeks scored his team's first seven points, 14 of its first 20. Any hopes the Razorbacks had of juicing the crowd early were dashed. With 10:32 left in the first half, it was Meeks 14, Arkansas 13.

"That may have been the most important thing we did," Gillispie said.
The most important thing we can do is to appreciate who we're watching — just how good a kid this is — and what we're watching.

This is, after all, college basketball's all-time winningest program, the "greatest tradition in the history of college basketball," and all that. Some pretty fair players have pulled that blue-and-white jersey over their heads. And for some pretty fair teams.

This may not be one of those teams — verdict yet to come — but this is certainly one of those players. Not a one has had a season quite like the one Jodie Meeks has had this season.

























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