With Kentucky fighting for its post-season life and Billy Gillispie on the metaphorical hot seat, a strange thing happened at Creighton on Monday night. The UK coach benched his leading scorer, Jodie Meeks.
It was early in the second half of UK's second-round National Invitation Tournament game. Meeks, the nation's sixth-most prolific scorer (24.0 points per game) had not prevented his man, Booker Woodfox, from catching an inbounds pass and scoring.
When that happened, freshman Darius Miller hopped off the UK bench and replaced Meeks with 17:39 left.
It appeared Gillispie intended to win or lose without Meeks on the floor. But with 10:35 left, Meeks returned and made up for lost time.
On his first possession, Meeks fed a pass that got Ramon Harris a dunk. Then Meeks hit two free throws. Then he drove to a layup against Creighton's press. Then he hit two more free throws to cap his involvement in eight straight points in less than two minutes.
That Meeks scored 10 of his team-high 16 points after returning to the game, including the game-winning shot in UK's 65-63 victory, was not lost on a reporter from Nebraska.
Meeks' three-point play with 10.6 seconds left not only set the final score, but it also established UK's only lead of more than one point the entire game.
When the reporter asked whether the coach instructed Meeks to be more aggressive, Gillispie seemed to bristle.
"I told him back in October to be aggressive," Gillispie said. "And he's done a pretty good job at doing it."
Then the UK coach added, "It's not a one-man team. It's not been a one-man team. It'll never be a one-man team."
Of course, this wasn't the first time a question about Meeks seemed to annoy Gillispie. Most famously, he told Jeannine Edwards she asked a "bad question" when the ESPN sideline reporter asked about Meeks not scoring a basket in the first half at Mississippi.
If Meeks was bothered by the benching (or if it spurred him to be more aggressive), he wasn't saying.
"We were winning," he said in something of a stretch. The Cats trailed 38-35 when Meeks went to the bench and were behind 45-41 when he returned.
"Sitting on the bench is not a thing to me," Meeks said. "It gave me a chance to rest (and) to get ready for the last push of the second half."
Not many teams have played a tougher schedule than Notre Dame's. The Irish played six games against No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and eight games against teams in the Sweet 16. Other opponents included UCLA, Texas and Ohio State.
"By far the toughest schedule in our history," Coach Mike Brey said. "Whatever's second (toughest), it's a distant second."
The grinding schedule followed an August tour of Ireland. It was a reward for upperclassmen and a chance to play younger players, Brey said.
So Notre Dame has been practicing since Aug. 2. Yet the Irish still play with energy.
For this, Brey credited shorter practices. He said the team hasn't had a practice last more than an hour in six weeks. The workout on Monday was 45 minutes, he said.
UK and Notre Dame used to regularly play. The Cats lead the series 41-17, a margin that includes 10 straight victories.
"Their program sort of owned us," Brey said.
Brey pulled the plug on the series after the 2003-04 season. With the Irish entering the Big East, he wanted to lighten the pre-conference load.
Patterson hits 1,000-point mark
Patrick Patterson's 12 points at Creighton gave him 1,002 for his two-season UK career.
He reached 1,000 points in 58 games. Only nine UK players have gotten to 1,000 points in fewer contests.
Cotton Nash set the UK standard by getting to 1,000 points in 45 games.
■ The UK-Notre Dame winner will play Penn State in the NIT semifinals next Tuesday.
■ Brad Nessler and Jimmy Dykes will call the UK-Notre Dame game on ESPN2.