Meeks breaks Issel's mark, Cats thump Vols

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 14, 2009 

KNOXVILLE — Patrick Patterson took the inbounds pass and faked a handoff to Jodie Meeks.

Two Tennessee defenders went with Meeks, leaving Patterson with a clear path to a dunk.

In this game, that rated as good defense.

Meeks set UK records for points and three-pointers in leading his team to a 90-72 victory over Tennessee Tuesday night.

The junior guard from Norcross, Ga., made 10 three-pointers en route to 54 points. That eclisped Dan Issel's single-game scoring record, which had stood for 38 years. It was also the most points by a Southeastern Conference player since LSU's Chris Jackson scored 55 against Ole Miss in 1989.

"Kind of mind-boggling to me," Meeks said.

That made it unanimous as Meeks also broke the Thompson-Boling Arena scoring record (previously 49 points by LSU's Jackson in 1990) and Kentucky snapped a six-game losing streak against ranked opponents and improved to 13-4 overall and 2-0 in the SEC. Winning the game, Meeks reminded reporters, was his objective.

Tennessee, ranked No. 24, fell to 10-5 overall and 1-1 in the SEC.

"I'm really disappointed we're still trying to look to develop that third scorer," UK Coach Billy Gillispie quipped, using Meeks' scoring explosion to belittle the conventional view of his team's critical shortcoming.

Turning serious, Gillispie called it the best individual performance he'd ever seen.

"Till he gets 60," the UK coach said, "it'll probably be at the top of the list. One of the most unbelievable individual achievements I've ever seen."

Thanks to Meeks' unguardable play, Kentucky controlled much of the first half.

Then two Kevin Galloway turnovers in the final 90 seconds caused much of a comfortable cushion to disappear.

Tennessee converted the second turnover with a Smith three-pointer from the right corner. That shot with 12.6 seconds left enabled the Vols to reduce UK's lead to 41-37 at halftime.

Gillispie was none too happy with the sudden momentum shift. It didn't help his mood when ESPN's sideline reporter, Jeannine Edwards, stopped the UK coach for an interview as the players exited the court.

Gillispie's big-league frown suggested he wanted to lecture his players rather than chat with Edwards. But he stopped and answered a few questions.

When he got to the locker room, Gillispie presumably chewed out the Cats for the turnover flurry. His other instruction surely was to keep getting the ball to Meeks.

Meeks scored 26 first-half points, which even for the SEC's leading scorer (24.2 points a game) was a lot. It was more than he'd scored in 55 of his 62 games as a Cat.

"Praise the Lord," said his father, Orestes Meeks, who drove to the game, "because last year was tough. ... It was phenomenal to watch."

Meeks, who played in only 11 games last season because of multiple injuries, made five of seven three-point shots, which put him on track to break Kentucky's single-game record of nine he shared with Tony Delk after making that many against Appalachian State en route to 46 points on Dec. 20.

After Meeks scored UK's first basket, Tennessee controlled the early going with offensive rebounding. Five of the Vols' first seven baskets came off offensive rebounds.

Then Meeks went to work. His three-pointer with 10:04 left erased the last of a one-time five-point Tennessee lead. His fast-break layup and free throw gave the Cats their first double-digit lead, 39-28, with 2:37 left.

Halftime didn't cool off Meeks. That enabled Kentucky to expand its lead back to double digits.

On the half's first possession, Meeks faked left, which left J.P. Prince lunging the wrong way and reaching to grab the UK player. Meeks took a step right and swished a three-pointer.

That began a run of seven straight points by Meeks, who made his first four shots of the half. He scored 10 of UK's first 12 points, the last a three-pointer (his seventh) that gave the Cats their largest lead to that point, 53-41, with 16:37 left.

Meeks' two free throws brought the lead to 58-44 with 13:54 left and gave the UK guard 38 points. Two more free throws with 8:42 gave Meeks 40 points.

Tennessee got within 68-59. As the crowd roared, Kentucky milked the shot clock, then Porter drove and whipped a pass to Meeks at the of the key. Meeks swished the three-pointer — his eighth of the game in 12 shots — to restore a double-digit lead with 7:06 left.

Tennessee got as close as 71-64 down the stretch. Meeks scored the next nine points: Two three-pointers, which gave him a UK record 10, then three free throws when Bobby Maze understandably fouled Meeks on another attempt.

After Meeks swished all three, Smith shook his head as he looked at the scoreboard and got ready to inbounds the ball.

"He's Mr. Clutch now," teammate Patrick Patterson said.

Meeks set the UK scoring record with two free throws at the 1:31 mark. That made him 14 of 14 from the foul line. In the last seven games, he's made 43 of 44 free throws and 40 of 76 three-point shots.

Even for a demanding, impossible-to-satisfy coach like Gillispie, Meeks' performance made it hard to pick out flaws. Sort of like criticizing a freckle on Charlize Theron's arm.

"He's not perfect yet," Gillispie said. "I'll remind him of that on Thursday (the next practice). I promise you that.

"But he had almost a perfect night."

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