The reasons for considering this an exceptional season for Jodie Meeks should include his effort.
Kentucky questioned its heart and desire and competitive spirit after the loss to Mississippi State on Tuesday night. But Coach Billy Gillispie suggested an abundance of those attributes contributed to Meeks' recent downturn in production.
"He's probably been a little too eager because he's trying a little too hard," Gillispie said. "He's trying as hard as a player can possibly try. But we have to do a better job helping him."
A perfect storm thwarted Meeks in UK's current three-game losing streak. Opponents design defenses to contain him. His teammates fail to exploit their scoring opportunities.
When asked whether opponents defend Meeks differently since the school-record 54 points at Tennessee on Jan. 13, Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury said, "If they don't, then they're in trouble. He's absolutely one of the best two-guards in the country, and he's going to get attention from everybody."
Meeks' 15 points against Mississippi State marked the fourth straight game his scoring decreased. In UK's three losses (to Mississippi, South Carolina and Mississippi State), Meeks made only 36.6 percent of his shots (15 of 41), which included 6-for-19 shooting from three-point range (31.6 percent). He had four assists and nine turnovers.
"We're not getting him enough shots where he needs to get shots," Gillispie said. "When you're scoring as poorly as we are at every other position, it makes it a lot worse."
Although Stansbury noted that State prevented Meeks from taking over the game, the UK junior always impacts the action. His scoring average in the three losses (18.7 ppg) would rank fourth in Southeastern Conference play.
Mississippi State emphasized limiting Meeks' scoring chances on the fast break.
"One of our big plans was to keep him from catching the ball in transition," Stansbury said. "If you go back and watch his threes, he makes more threes in transition by just pitching ahead to him and just playing than he does in the (half-court) offense."
Against Mississippi State, Meeks made one three-pointer. It came with 2:45 left and Kentucky trailing 61-45.
When asked about State's transition defense on Meeks, Gillispie said, "They're doing a great job. Everyone is. They're locking up with him as soon as we gain possession."
UK's problems with defensive rebounding come into play. Each time an opponent scores on a putback, that's one less potential fast-break opportunity.
The defensive attention drawn by Meeks and teammate Patrick Patterson creates opportunities for teammates.
"We tried to limit those two guys, those two guys who beat most people," Stansbury said of Meeks and Patterson. "Tonight, we found a way to make it work. The next game, it may not work. Tonight, we let some guys shoot the basketball. They didn't make them. The next game they may make them."
The more others score, the more defenses must ease off Meeks, if only slightly.
As he's done repeatedly, Patterson expressed confidence in other players picking up the slack. Increasingly, you wonder whether Patterson really believes that.
Among the dreary statistics:
■ Ramon Harris has not made more than one basket in any of the past six games. During that span, he's shooting 3-for-14 (0-for-6 from three-point range).
■ DeAndre Liggins equaled a career high with two three-pointers against Mississippi State. But he's made only seven of 29 shots in the past three games.
■ Michael Porter has made four of 18 shots in the past six games (two of nine from three-point range).
■ Perry Stevenson hasn't cracked double digits in the three losses.
■ Darius Miller filled his stat line with contributions against State. But his 4.9-point scoring average against SEC teams hasn't diluted the defensive attention on Meeks.
Even Patterson is shooting a pedestrian (for him) 54.4 percent in SEC play.
When asked about his injured finger, Patterson conceded that it's not getting any better and affects his ability to catch the ball. That probably contributes to his seven assists and 22 turnovers in league play.
Porter came close to acknowledging that the home crowd's audible anxiety when an open player does not shoot drains confidence.
"You want to still get that shot in the flow of the offense," Porter said of the wide-open players refusing to shoot. "Sometimes you have a tendency to think about it too much. We have to figure out a way not to let (the crowd) get in our heads, and shoot the ball like we normally do."
Patterson detected doubt creeping into the minds of Kentucky's perimeter shooters.
"They stopped believing in themselves," he said. "... and started panicking when they didn't take the jump shot with the shot clock winding down."
Meanwhile, the players remain confident in Meeks. Stevenson pooh-poohed the suggestion that the defenses might frustrate Meeks.
"He's a pretty laid-back guy," Stevenson said. "I don't think he lets anything rattle him."
When asked about Kentucky not getting Meeks-like shooting and scoring lately, Stevenson said. "I guess he's thinking more of the shots he takes. He wants to take good shots every time."