You had to wonder what the Universiy of Kentucky basketball players were thinking about among uncertainty, swirling rumors about the status of their coach, and the future of the program.
You had to wonder what it felt like to be playing a postseason game, but to be relegated to page two of the Courier-Journal sports section in favor of speculation about Coach Gillispie’s job security, or lack thereof.
The Wildcats answered by defeating the Creighton Bluejays 65-63, effectively saying “Hey, we’re still playing games over here.”
Yeah, Kentucky fans turned out in force to help carry them to a 70-60 win in Memorial Coliseum.
That game proved to be nothing more than a break from what has become UK fans’ favorite pastime, which is wondering and making opinions out loud about the state of the program. People are doing more talking about potential next coaches and calls that the parents of signees are placing into Mitch Barnhart’s office.
It is almost as if the guys were playing out of procrastination, not wanting to deal with an offseason that is certain to be full of questions that are not going to be much fun to answer.
They will not have to deal with those questions for at least a little while longer, as Kentucky will face off on Wednesday against another team whose season has been marked by unfulfilled expectations, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
We will have plenty of time to talk about the offseason and the Notre Dame game (and trust me, the Pinkie has you covered on both).
So let’s focus on a rare game this season that Kentucky won with clutch play down the stretch.
It was an interesting game for the simple fact of how differently the fans of the two teams approached the games. Some UK fans probably treated the game as somewhat of an afterthought.
Creighton fans came out intent to provide a great atmosphere in a beautiful arena against an opponent that presented an opportunity to beat a historically powerful program in their own building.
The game started off with Creighton getting Patrick Patterson in foul trouble and completely shutting down Jodie Meeks. The two combined for their quietest half all season. Yet, Kentucky found itself down only 33-31 on the strength of solid contributions from Perry Stevenson, Ramon Harris, and Darius Miller and some good defense.
Meeks and Patterson stayed quiet for the first eight minutes or so of the second half. At about the 10-minute mark, Kentucky’s two stars decided they were going to play like All-Americans, whether Creighton was going to let them or not.
Meeks made a beautiful backdoor dish to Ramon Harris, who finished with a very solid nine points, eight assists, and four rebounds to cut Creighton’s lead to 45-43. Then Jodie started taking the ball to the basket with authority and fighting his way to the free-throw line.
Patrick Patterson then followed suit by blocking any weak Bluejay attempts in the paint, which got his head back in the game. A layup and two free throws tied the game at 60 with 2:39 left.
It looked like UK might surge ahead at that point. But Creighton refused to wilt, scoring on a late shotclock dunk and one by Kenny Lawson, which was set up by the awesomely named P’Allen Stinnett.
By the way, I have always wanted to name a kid after myself, but wanted to change the name up a little bit. Look for the birth of P’Guy Smiley sometime in the next few years.
Meeks quickly answered with layup to get within one with just over a minute left. Michael Porter then got a steal to give UK a chance to seize the lead, but UK failed to get a shot off when Porter and Meeks botched a handoff in the backcourt.
Meeks fouled Justin Carter to save a dunk. Carter, however, missed both free throws, the second being rebounded by Patrick Patterson.
After failing to make any progress as 20-seconds ticked off the clock, Coach Gillispie called what some likely thought would be his last as the UK coach.
Jodie Meeks exploded to the basket after the break, navigating every body Creighton coach Dana Altman threw at him to nail a layup while being fouled.
Creighton got a pretty solid look at the basket from three out of Booker Woodfox. It was just long, and none other than Jodie Meeks snagged the rebound as the horn sounded.
It is pretty clear, based on how many times I wrote the names “Meeks” and “Patterson” in the summary of the last 10 minutes, that it was a signature performance by two guys, who have had phenomenal seasons even while so much has been going on around them.
They combined for only 28 points and nine rebounds. Numbers that each has matched on their own this season in some games, but the vast majority came when it really mattered, when they decided not to lose.
Even if Kentucky basketball games have become nothing more than a distraction in the midst of a soap opera, watching the Wildcats win that game in dramatic fashion was a lot of fun.
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