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Without Patterson, Cats Take No. 1 Vols to the Brink

Date story published: Monday, March 3, 2008

KNOXVILLE -- Kentucky's adjustment to a basketball world without Patrick Patterson began before Sunday's tipoff at No. 1 Tennessee.

"We had to show our guys how to line up for a jump ball," UK Coach Billy Gillispie said, "because we haven't had that lineup in there."

Gulp. Walk-on Mark Coury jumped for the tap that Tennessee's Tyler Smith easily controlled.

Thereafter, UK showed there can be exciting, admirable, even inspiring basketball without Patterson.

After a blazing start that suggested the tip served as prelude to humiliation, nothing much came easy for the Vols. Kentucky did what it hoped to do. Defend well. Patiently probe for high-percentage shots. Fill Patterson's considerable absence by gathering contributions from several mostly untapped resources.

"We did exactly what we wanted," Joe Crawford said. "We just didn't pull the game out. I think we had them right where we wanted for the most part of the game."

Tennessee won 63-60 to clinch at least a share of the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division championship.

Despite the score and the spoils of victory, the game felt like a loss to a Vols team intent on exacting cruel revenge for a January defeat.

"Oh yeah," a glum Smith said. "We're still down because we know we could have played better. We wanted -- not to blow them out or anything, but -- a comfortable lead."

Without Patterson, the Cats got more from:

* Perry Stevenson, who grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds and scored 13 points, one shy of his season high against an SEC team.

* Derrick Jasper, who tied a career-high with two three-point baskets (each coming in the final six minutes of a seesaw final stretch that saw 12 lead changes and two ties).

* Freshman A.J. Stewart, who blocked JaJuan Smith's questionable shot off the drive with UT clinging to a 63-60 lead inside the final minute.

* Ramon Harris, whose career-high 12 points included a three-pointer.

"I knew Jasper was going to hit three-pointers because since he was hurt he worked on his shot," UT forward Wayne Chism said. "But Ramon Harris hitting a three-pointer, it looked like, 'Wow'."

To get to the last-second situation, Kentucky (16-11 overall and 10-4 in the SEC) shook off Tennessee's 20-5 run to start the game. The Cats also had to overcome Crawford's foul trouble, which limited him to 24 minutes and nine points (snapping a streak of 15 games with 10 or more points).

"I don't know if I've been part of a more courageous effort ... ," Gillispie said.

"We suffered a tough break on Friday, less than 48 hours ago," he added, a reference to the discovery of Patterson's season-ending stress fracture in the left ankle that he punctuated with a chuckle. "Those guys said, 'Hey, let's figure out a way we can do this. Let's go over there and try to do it.'"

Ramel Bradley, who led UK with 17 points, hit a three-pointer to reduce the early deficit to 29-22. Later he hit a fadeaway to bring UK within five, 32-27, just before halftime.

"Ramel Bradley showed why Kentucky took him rather than Chris Lofton," Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl said.

Kentucky kept closing the gap into the second half with patience, which seemed to unnerve Tennessee. "Kentucky is the most patient team in the SEC," Pearl said. "We tried to press all day long and tried to wear them down."

Despite a shortened roster (Harris, Bradley and Jasper played all 40 minutes, Stevenson logged 37 minutes), Kentucky did not wilt. A three-point play by Harris gave the Cats their first lead, 42-41, with 13:54 left.

Tennessee's inside play -- which Patterson, alas, watched from the bench -- proved decisive down the stretch. Tyler Smith and Chism combined for 13 of the Vols' final 18 points. Except for a free throw, all came at the basket, including two putbacks.

"They pounded us on the offensive boards when we needed defensive boards," Gillispie said. "That was the difference in the game, I thought."

Tyler Smith, who led Tennessee with 15 points, tipped in his own miss to put the Vols ahead 60-57 with 3:10 left.

After two Bradley misses and a UK turnover, Tennessee seemed to have it won when Chris Lofton hit a floater in the lane. It put the Vols ahead 63-57 with 1:13 left.

But Jasper swished a three-pointer from the right corner with 59.8 seconds left to give Kentucky a chance.

Tennessee did not score again, thanks in part to Ramar Smith missing the front end of a one-on-one. But neither did UK.

When the Vols denied a play for Bradley, he passed to an open Jasper, who air-balled a three-pointer. "I just missed the shot," Jasper said. "All my fault."

After UT missed the free throws, Kentucky rushed downcourt in the final 14 seconds looking for a tying basket.

"I got a cleaner look than I thought I was going to get," Crawford said of his three-pointer from the right corner. "(Ramar Smith) reached for the ball, that broke me free. I was confident taking that shot."

It missed.

"We'll make a lot of mistakes," said Gillispie, who second-guessed himself for not calling timeout to map out a last shot. "Who knows what the results are going to be? But it won't be because we didn't go down without a fight, if we do go down."