UK made it a little bit more difficult than it probably needed to be, but the ‘Cats held off the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels 70-60 after building a 20 point second half lead. Things got tense for a while, as UK struggled to get into their offense against the UNLV press and half court double teams, while UNLV hit everything.
At one point, UNLV cut the lead all the way down to three points, but a Perry Stevenson free throw and then six straight points by Jodie Meeks cinched the win for UK.
UK got the win as they played their first game in their former home since 1976. I managed to snag floor seats for the game in Memorial Coliseum, and what a cool atmosphere. Memorial provides a much more intimate environment, and every fan among the 8,300 in attendance was into it every step of the way.
Even though the crowd was roughly 1/3 the size of a Rupp gathering, it felt every bit as loud. I know it’s a lot of money down the drain, but it would be great if UK could play one game a year in Memorial during the pre-season or regular season.
So, why was UK able to pick up the win today against a pretty solid UNLV team?
The first factor was that UK really wanted it. The crowd wanted it, the players wanted it, and Coach Gillispie wanted it. I was a little worried about this coming, but UK was diving after loose balls and digging them out from the very beginning, and it was great to see that this team has not quit on this season.
Not even close.
UK’s hustle also manifested itself in rebounding the ball. UK held UNLV to only six offensive rebounds, despite the fact that there was a wealth of long rebounds to go around. Ramon Harris and Patrick Patterson attacked the boards all day, and consistently outfought the Rebels.
The second factor was that UK did a good job of contesting three point shots. UK knew that UNLV was going to come out shooting, and they did not disappoint, jacking up 33 threes for the game.
UK contested the vast majority, even when UNLV was hitting them during the second half. Nearly every guy UNLV threw out there was going to be willing to shoot it, so every UK player had to have hands up.
The third factor in UK’s victory was turnovers. UK had only 12 on the game, and even though the offense did not run smoothly down the stretch, UK at least held on to the ball. UK just does not have the guards to be a good ball handling team, but they can survive it if they play smart.
Down the stretch, Darius Miller had the ball in his hands much of the time, and he did a good job settling UK’s offense.
Nobody on UK played a great game, but most of the guys who played major minutes brought something to the table. Jodie struggled to get his shots off, but he scored when UK needed it most, on the way to 19 points.
Patrick Patterson had to deal with sextuple teams pretty much every time down the court (yeah, Lon Kruger stuck his nose in there), but he put up a double-double, and was tough all night.
Perry Stevenson did not hit shots today, but he managed to eke out double figures and throw in probably the dunk of the season as UK sprinted out to that 20 point lead. Darius Miller made a bunch of big plays too, and Ramon Harris crashed the boards.
UK now awaits the winner of Creighton and Bowling Green tomorrow night. The word around Lexington was that UK will play again on Sunday, and if Creighton wins, UK will be heading to Nebraska to play in Creighton’s beautiful Qwest Center. If Bowling Green pulls the upset, UK will host a second game.