Feb. 21, 2009
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Tennessee found a way to slow down Jodie Meeks.
It was the rest of the Wildcats that proved to be a problem.
Patrick Patterson returned from an ankle injury to score 19 points and freshman Darius Miller added a career-high 17 points and six assists as the Wildcats dominated the Volunteers 77-58 on Saturday, sweeping the season series from the Volunteers to keep pace atop the crowded SEC East.
"Everybody was doing their part today," Patterson said. "It was a great team effort. We have confidence that the other guys can make shots. When they do, it makes it easier for me and Jodie."
Meeks, who had a school-record 54 points in a win at Knoxville last month, scored 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting. But the Wildcats (19-8, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) didn't need him to be Superman this time.
Kentucky never trailed and was never threatened for most of the second half as the Volunteers (16-10, 7-5) struggled by shooting 32 percent from the field (20-for-63), including 4-for-24 3-pointers.
"We didn't play with passion and purpose," said Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl. "There were times that we quit. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I've never been so embarrassed with the way I coached and the way my team played."
Scotty Hopson led Tennessee with 14 points and J.P Prince added 11 points and six rebounds but couldn't stop the Volunteers from losing their second straight and placing their NCAA tournament hopes very much in peril.
"I've never had this issue," Pearl said. "My teams have played hard and unselfishly. This team does not do either."
It worked. Meeks was never able to get free, as Maze and Tabb picked him up the second he stepped across halfcourt. Meeks missed all seven of his 3-point attempts as the Volunteers dared the rest of the Wildcats to beat them.
Miller, Kentucky's Mr. Basketball as a high school senior last spring, made all six of his field goal attempts and gave coach Billy Gillispie a glimpse of the player he signed a year ago.
"That's the Darius we recruited," Gillispie said. "It's great to have a bust-out game like that."
The Wildcats needed it with Meeks bottled up. Kentucky took control with a 15-4 run early in the second half, a burst in which Meeks managed just two points.
Instead, it was the role players like Miller and Porter -- who Gillispie had chastised for being too deferential to Meeks and Patterson -- who finally stepped out of the shadows.
Porter knocked down a pair of 3-pointers during the run, Miller added a 3 and a little runner in the lane as Kentucky took a 48-33 lead.
"Coach has really been stressing to make plays and help (Patterson and Meeks) out," Miller said. "They've been carrying us pretty much the whole year so we've just got to turn that around and help them out."
The Wildcats had little trouble spreading it around. Kentucky finished with 23 assists on 28 field goals, the kind of unselfish play that is spearheaded by their two stars.
"We can be a great offensive team when we share the ball like that," Patterson said.
It helps when their big man is healthy. Patterson sat out a win over Arkansas and a loss to Vanderbilt while nursing a sprained right ankle. He looked just fine against the Volunteers, making 9-of-12 field goals and providing the kind of stabilizing presence they sorely missed.
"I felt great today," Patterson said. "It was really hard watching us play Vandy. Not only does my ankle not hurt anymore, but my finger is healed. I'm ready to go."
The Volunteers may be to, but in the opposite direction.
Pearl became so agitated during a scramble under the Tennessee basket he drew a technical foul. Meeks made both free throws and the Wildcats just kept on going. Miller hit another 3-pointer and Patterson followed with a layup as Kentucky pushed the lead to 59-38 with 11 minutes to play.
The Volunteers would get no closer than 14 the rest of the way, as leading scorer Tyler Smith couldn't get going. He finished with a season-low six points on 1-of-11 shooting.
Smith was hardly the only one who couldn't find the range. Yet Pearl refused to blame his junior star, instead saying the rest of the team could use a cold dose of reality.
"Our inability and ineptness to score really hurt us," Pearl said. "We've got four games left and I think we need to win all of them."
Former Tennessee star Chris Lofton, a Kentucky native, watched from the stands in an effort to give the Volunteers a lift. They could have used him on the floor instead.