VMI, caramba!

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 15, 2008 

  • Next game

    Kentucky at North Carolina

    When: 9 p.m. Tuesday

    TV: ESPN

During the bus ride from Lexington, Va., to Lexington, Ky., Virginia Military Institute players watched a video of Gardner-Webb beating Kentucky last November.

"To show them it can be done," VMI Coach Duggar Baucom said.

Now some future nondescript UK opponent will have two videos with which to feed its confidence.

In a replay no UK fan wanted or expected to see, VMI outgutted Kentucky 111-103 Friday night.

This season opener echoed the loss to Gardner-Webb. There were differences. Instead of the Gardner-Webb formula of disciplined backdoor cuts against a shorthanded Kentucky, VMI used its signature high-octane style to gas the Cats.

But that video on the bus tied the upsets together in the same you-gotta-believe package.

Guard Travis Holmes, who led the Keydets with 30 points, summed up the lesson he learned from the Gardner-Webb video in two words:

"Outhustle them," he said. "We knew if we outhustled them, that would be the key."

UK Coach Billy Gillispie dismissed the suggestion that his team got caught up in VMI's style. He unwittingly seconded Holmes' thought.

"They outfought us," he said. "They got all the loose balls and outhustled us."

VMI, which led the nation in scoring the past two seasons, pressured UK throughout. The Cats committed 25 turnovers. The pressure exposed Kentucky's point guards, Michael Porter and DeAndre Liggins, who combined for six assists and 12 turnovers.

While busy being discombobulated, the point guards failed to fully use UK's advantage in All-America candidate Patrick Patterson. He equaled a career-low four shot attempts and scored eight points (third puniest total of his career) though playing against a team that started one player taller than 6-foot-4. That would be 6-6 Willie Bell.

"Honestly, we couldn't check him in the post," said 6-4 Holmes, over whom Patterson scored his and UK's only basket off a post-up move.

Twin brother Chavis Holmes explained Patterson's quiet evening by saying, "We wanted to exploit their guard play. We knew (Jodie) Meeks and Patterson could beat us. We wanted to push up on the guards. We started on them early, and it rattled them."

At the other end, VMI made 14 three-point baskets, the most by a Kentucky opponent since the Crispin brothers led visiting Penn State to a victory on Nov. 25, 2000.

Kentucky, which lost an opening game at home for the first time since 2001 (Western Kentucky), saw valiant play collectively and individually go to waste. A UK comeback erased a 23-point second-half deficit. Meeks smashed his previous career-high of 21 points (done against Houston and Florida International last season) with a 39-point effort.

As Gillispie noted on Wednesday, VMI could lure a team into its favored frenetic pace.

Much of the night, the Keydets breathed life into that old saying commonly attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche: Out of chaos comes order.

Kentucky stumbled and bumbled, as evidenced by 16 first-half turnovers. Blame the fact that the Cats never settled into a rhythm.

"We never had an organized approach all night long," said Gillispie, who blamed himself for UK's lack of leadership and cohesion.

Not that the Cats got caught up in a three-point duel. UK took a reasonable 16 three-pointers to VMI's 31.

Patterson got benched with 17:11 left in the first half and did not take a shot until laying in a loose ball with 18:47 left in the second half.

But the Cats either turned over the ball or played on the brink of a turnover way too often to threaten VMI. Kentucky had seven turnovers by the first television timeout.

Even when UK did something correctly, there was a downside. Freshman Darius Miller dunked, but he was called for a technical foul for slapping the backboard.

Meanwhile, VMI, which showed the cohesion that comes with starting three seniors, made six of its first seven three-point attempts in running up first-half leads as large as 42-21.

A rousing second-half comeback by Kentucky didn't come quickly. A particularly unsightly sequence pushed the second-half margin to 20 points.

Liggins looked like a freshman when he tried to split two defenders with a behind-the-back dribble. VMI took away the ball as a fan yelled too late, "Don't get fancy."

Meeks and Perry Stevenson led a furious — what wasn't furious? — UK rally. The pair combined to score 24 of UK's next 28 points.

Kentucky finally tied it at 95-95 when Ramon Harris put back his own miss with 5:12 left. Another Harris layup 21 seconds later gave the Cats their only lead. It lasted 44 seconds.

Austin Kenon broke a 97-97 tie with a three-pointer from the left corner. With Meeks nursing cramps and going scoreless the final 7:27, VMI executed better than UK down the stretch.

That raised a question: What would the Keydets watch on the bus heading home.

Ready with an answer, a smiling Travis Holmes said, "SportsCenter."

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