Date story published: Thursday, November 22, 2007
Patrick Patterson became the first Kentucky freshman in six years to score at least 20 points and grab 10 or more rebounds in a game. He also became the first UK player to test whether Coach Billy Gillispie's never-satisfied persona has an off switch.
Apparently, it doesn't.
"He's going to be a great player," Gillispie said after Patterson led Kentucky to an 80-54 victory over Liberty last night. "He can play facing the basket. He can play with his back to the basket.
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"But he's got to be meaner."
Patterson scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. The last UK freshman to reach such statistical heights was Jason Parker (22 and 13) against Southern California in the 2001 NCAA Tournament.
"Instead of 23, I want him to have 37," Gillispie said with a smile.
To which Patterson said, "I'd rather have 37, too. Any day."
Patterson might have gotten that many points against Liberty had he not missed several shots around the basket.
"His first basket, he jumped two inches off the floor," Gillispie said. "He's got to dunk that."
Patterson, who surpassed 16 points in his first two games, acknowledged a habit of shooting with finesse rather than power.
"Stop with the finesse stuff," he said. "Coach wants me to be tough, mean, be an animal out there."
Patterson, a McDonald's All-American from Huntington, W.Va., had some moments like that. He completed a 14-2 run in a style reminiscent of Kentucky's powerhouse glory days. Although triple-teamed, he reached over the crowd of defenders to receive a feed into the post. Then he pivoted to the other side of the basket and dunked.
One coach's asset can be another coach's liability.
"He's a terrific player," Liberty Coach Ritchie McKay said of Patterson. "He shows great patience for being that young of age. He's going to make a lot of money. He's got all-SEC written all over him. We just don't know when it'll happen."
Kentucky (2-1) never trailed in the first half, building a double-digit lead barely five minutes into the game. The margin grew to as much as 18-4 before Liberty rallied to within 24-17.
Then UK controlled the final three minutes. Joe Crawford, who finished with 22 points, hit a three-pointer with 31.5 seconds left to give UK its 36-21 halftime lead. That also represented the Cats' largest lead to that point.
Defense was the key to Kentucky's control. The Cats showed their intent to play intensely on Liberty's first possessions. The Flames got only a three-point heave to beat the shot clock. In Liberty's first four trips downcourt, the Flames rushed two shots to beat the shot clock and turned the ball over twice.
Liberty (2-4) made one of its first eight shots (and two of its first 16). The Flames made one of 15 three-point shots in the first half.
Perhaps no play showed UK's intention to contest every shot better than one by freshman Alex Legion, who started in place of the injured Jodie Meeks. After being stripped of the ball, he caught up to a fast-breaking Liberty player and blocked the shot.
Rebounding, an area of concern for Gillispie, helped Liberty hang in there. The Flames outrebounded Kentucky 19-18 in the first 20 minutes. In one trip downcourt, Liberty got three offensive rebounds.
A putback by Alex McLean narrowed UK's lead to 24-17 with 3:30 left.
Michael Porter hit a long three-pointer from the right wing to start a 12-4 Kentucky run to complete the half.
Crawford, who entered the game at the 9:17 mark, contributed five points to the run. His twisting layup on a fast break and a three-pointer were part of a team-high nine-point half.
Kentucky showed good ball movement after halftime. The ball went from the left side to the right, back to the left, then into the low post before a wide-open Crawford took a pass on the left wing and swished a three-pointer.
A flurry of plays by Patterson gave Kentucky its first 20-point lead. He took a lob from Crawford and dunked, then retrieved a loose ball in the post for a layup.
On the next possession, Patterson passed from the post to a cutting Stewart for a layup.
"Pat's going to be something else," Gillispie said. "When he decides he's going to dominate on every play, he's going to have a chance to do that against a lot of players. Not everybody. But a lot of them."
Presumably, that's where the mean part comes in.
"I think I can," Patterson said. "Gillispie, I know he can make me a mean guy."
Gillispie did not single out Patterson as the only player who needed to be meaner. The UK coach lamented too many rebound battles lost, too many shots around the basket weakly missed.
When asked whether a mean streak can be coached into a player, Gillispie said, "I don't know if you can. But if it's possible, they have a good teacher. I promise you that."
And in Patterson, Gillispie has a subject able to transform toughness into production.
"I'm not worried about Patrick," Gillispie said with a chuckle, "Believe me."