Harrellson shines in UK's 111-53 exhibition rout

Newcomers come up big in exhibition

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 4, 2008 

When Josh Harrellson hit a 15-footer, the crowd applauded. Then he made a rebound putback, then a jumper from the top of the key.

With each basket, the cheers grew louder until the Rupp Arena fans gave Kentucky's new big man a standing ovation.

"It's really amazing," Harrellson said after UK's 111-53 annihilation of Missouri-St. Louis in an exhibition game Monday night. "I made the first shot and I heard, 'Yeah, Yeah.' It built up every time till they were going ecstatic."

Fittingly, UK Coach Billy Gillispie put the game in a context of stepping stones toward something special. That step-by-step process applied to Harrellson individually and to Kentucky, which took a great leap forward by dominating a Division II team the way an ambitious power program should.

"His whole deal is his mind-set," Gillispie said of Harrellson, who scored 21 points and grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds. "He has to change his mind-set to 'Hey, I'm really good enough to play here.' "

Harrellson acknowledged that he came to Kentucky with a modest self-image.

"I just thought I was a big body," he said, "and just a mediocre player."

Gillispie went about changing Harrellson's body. After losing 20 some pounds, Harrellson had to push himself to believe he could be more productive.

And if Harrellson couldn't push himself, Gillispie was more than willing to shove the big man.

"He wants me out of my comfort zone," Harrellson said. "Be more physical."

As if to prove the point, Gillispie prodded Harrellson after the big man hit jumper after jumper.

"Anybody can play H-O-R-S-E," Harrellson said, quoting Gillispie. "But you've got to defend.

"I took that to heart."

As for Kentucky's team, Gillispie said after the Blue-White game last weekend that he wanted better defense.

The Cats delivered against Missouri-St. Louis. UK scored the game's first 10 points and steadily expanded to a 63-23 halftime margin.

Suffocating defense, inside domination and a vast array of offensive weapons buried Missouri-St. Louis.

UK outrebounded Missouri-St. Louis 58-23 and blocked nine shots.

Kentucky aggressively played the passing lanes and challenged just about every shot. As a result, the Tritons did not score until Nathan Whittaker made two free throws at the 14:50 mark.

The first basket came when freshman Sam Buxton made a layup. He had to fake a shot and then reverse the ball off the board to elude Jared Carter's defense.

While better, the Cats' defense did not satisfy Gillispie.

"Not good enough," the UK coach said. Missouri-St. Louis started no one taller than 6-foot-6, which posed no reasonable gauge for the interior defense. And UK did not always halt the visitors' transition offense.

"I'm not overly concerned about it," Gillispie said.

Offensively, Kentucky passed the scoring baton from player to player.

Early on, Patrick Patterson held sway. He scored 12 of UK's first 28 points and finished with 24. Then Jodie Meeks, who made only one of his first seven shots, took a turn. He ended up making seven three-point shots en route to a team-high 27-point night.

Newcomers Darius Miller and Harrellson brought the crowd out of its seats later in the half. Miller, the pride of Mason County, cut into the passing lane for a steal and drove to a layup while being fouled.

Responding to Miller's cutting off a passing lane and UK's overall defensive intensity, the crowd rose for a standing ovation.

Harrellson, who is expected to team with Patterson in a high-low alignment of big men, showed he's ready for the high post. He made two high-arching shots, the second near the three-point line. That prompted the crowd to another standing ovation.

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