Guarantee almost guillotine for Cats

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 28, 2008 

There was nothing guaranteed about this so-called "guarantee game."

In Rupp Arena as "a lamb going to slaughter," to quote Coach Mike Jarvis, Florida Atlantic extended Kentucky to the final minute before succumbing 76-69 Saturday.

And UK Coach Billy Gillispie sounded as though he couldn't be happier.

"I thought they played out of their minds," Gillispie said. "They just didn't miss any shots."

A 48.2-percent accuracy (the best since Virginia Military Institute by a UK opponent) let the Owls control the tempo and make Kentucky play a possession-by-possession game.

"Exactly what we needed," said Gillispie, who left unsaid the contrast to UK's recent bloodlettings against Tennessee State (ho-hum), Appalachian State (yawn), Indiana (zzzzz) and Mississippi Valley State (D.O.A.).

Kentucky's size prevailed as Patrick Patterson's 27 points and 14 rebounds fueled an overwhelming 48-24 UK advantage in points in the paint.

But thanks largely to senior guard Paul Graham, Florida Atlantic never let UK build a double-digit lead. Graham, the son of a former Atlanta Hawk (also named Paul) and a native of Philadelphia, scored a career-high 31 points. That eclipsed the previous high by a UK opponent this season: 30 by VMI's Travis Holmes.

"Well, my main focus was just to get the win," Graham said in a soft voice. "I just try to do what I can do for the team and the coach."

Kentucky, which improved to 10-3 by matching its season-high fifth straight victory, tried mightily to prevent Graham from achieving that end. At least six different defenders (Ramon Harris, Darius Miller, Jodie Meeks, Landon Slone, Perry Stevenson and Michael Porter) guarded him.

"Until Porter got on him, I thought we put a lot of 'efenders' on him," Gillispie said. "No 'D.' "

When the laughter subsided in the post-game news conference, Gillispie noted his disappointment that Harris, who made his first start since a head-to-head collision with Porter, let Graham get off to a good start.

"He's better than that," Gillispie said of Harris, who went to the bench at the first television timeout and never returned. "He said he was OK. I don't think so.

"That's the first time somebody scored on us that early in a long time. And it went downhill from there."

Graham scored six of Florida Atlantic's first eight points and finished the half with 20. Only three UK opponents had scored more than that in a whole game this season. Graham made eight of 12 first-half shots (one of two from three-point range).

The 37-37 halftime score marked the first time since the Miami (Fla.) game, Kentucky did not lead at intermission.

"Paul Graham is a very interesting young man," Jarvis said. "He really makes you grow as a coach. When he has a night like tonight, you know how good he can be. When he doesn't try to do too much, he's really good.

"Now he's actually playing defense. It's scary."

Meanwhile, Kentucky had to shake off a bout of three-point trigger happiness to prevent what would have been only the third halftime deficit since the North Carolina game (West Virginia and Miami).

Six of the Cats' first nine shots were three-pointers.

After the first television timeout, Kentucky took only one more three-pointer in the next nine minutes plus. And UK probably regretted that one: a brick by Josh Harrellson from the top of the key.

The Cats put the ball into the low post six straight times before the Harrellson brick.

"I thought we had a quick trigger at the start," said Gillispie, who again singled out Harris. "Ramon doesn't need to play six minutes and shoot two threes."

Kentucky did not put away Florida Atlantic early in the second half. A pull-up jumper by Graham gave the Owls their biggest lead, 51-46, with 14:33 left.

UK answered with six straight points against Florida Atlantic's zone.

Stevenson accounted for the final four with two dunks, the second putting the Cats ahead 52-51 and prompting a Florida Atlantic timeout at the 13-minute mark.

The run grew to 10-0 before Shavar Richardson hit a three-pointer. That was Florida Atlantic's only basket from the 14:33 mark until Graham hit an awkward 15-foot banker over Porter with 7:18 left.

"Oh gosh, that made me mad," Porter said. "He was on tonight. He was just making shots. I guess when you're playing like that, everything falls."

Dunks by Patterson and Stevenson extended Kentucky's lead to 68-59 with 5:43 left.

Graham wasn't finished. Off a backdoor cut, he slipped a layup around Patterson to reduce the lead to 68-61.

Florida Atlantic closed within two, 68-66, inside the final three minutes. But back-to-back baskets by Patterson, part of his 16-point second half, sealed the victory.

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