Cats caught in another Webb

John Clay
John Clay

This wasn't supposed to happen again. No more Gardner-Webbs. No more early-season shockers.

That was last year. Billy Gillispie's first year. It's Year Two now and the Cats are deeper, more experienced, expected to be more adept at knowing what the Kentucky coach wanted from the get-go.

But then VMI came into Rupp Arena on Friday night. Up went the Keydet three-pointers. Down through the net went Keydet three-pointers. The visitors were up a staggering 21 points in the first half. They were up 10 at the half. Even when Kentucky grabbed a brief 44-second lead in the second half, the home team's only lead, the Keydets forged in front again and won 111-103.

That's right, 111-103.

Earlier in the week, Gillispie had said the Cats could not get sucked into mimicking VMI's style of play. Yet that's exactly what happened.

The Keydets came down the court shooting and scoring. New longer distance on the three-point shot? So what. VMI made six of its first eight from behind the new stripe. Its confidence mushroomed.

Meanwhile, Kentucky would come down, turn the ball over, and chase VMI back up the floor. Come down, turn the ball over, and chase again. The Cats committed three turnovers in the first four possessions, seven before the first TV timeout. By halftime, Kentucky's turnover count was a not-so-sweet 16. By game's end, the total was 25. That's how you lose your season opener.

Kudos to Jodie Meeks, who was splendid in his first real game back from last year's sports hernia. The Kentucky junior scored 39 points in 34 minutes. He made 13 of 27 shots. For long stretches, he wasn't just the best of the Kentucky offense, he was the Kentucky offense.

But over the final six minutes, it was obvious Meeks was out of gas. He didn't score in the game's final 7:27. He was bending over, clutching the bottom of his long shorts during stoppages.

Patrick Patterson, now that's another matter. The sophomore center, so good last year before his injury, was practically a non-factor. And Patterson is too good a player to be a non-factor.

He played just nine minutes the first half, and he didn't take a shot. He finished the game with just four field-goal attempts, making three. He grabbed seven rebounds. In a game with 77 total rebounds, Patrick Patterson's stat line should show more than seven rebounds.

Given last year's injury, it makes you wonder. Is Patterson healthy? On the one hand, the pace of the game wasn't to the liking of a team that wanted to dump the ball inside to its star center. On the other hand, Patterson didn't look to have the same hops, the same spring in his step. It's way early, yes, but that's not the same Patterson we saw last year.

"I haven't heard that. I don't think so," answered Gillispie when asked if Patterson was still hurting. "It wasn't Patrick. Patrick played fine, but we didn't do a good enough job getting the ball in the post to him."

Then again, it's not certain the Cats could have delivered the ball to Patterson in a reasonably paced game.

Starting point guard Michael Porter committed five turnovers in 11 first-half minutes. DeAndre Liggins committed seven turnovers in his 27 minutes. Liggins is a freshman. It was his first official college game. Junior college transfer Kevin Galloway never made it off the bench.

Question: Has Randall Cobb ever played the point?

So lightning strikes, not once, but twice. The Cats lost that 84-68 shocker to Gardner-Webb the second game of last season. This year, it comes one game earlier. And Gardner-Webb was supposed to be a first-year fluke, a result given to the extenuating circumstances of a first-year coach trying to take the program in a different direction.

That wasn't supposed to happen again, but it did. At least UK has been through it before. It just didn't know it would have to go through it again so soon.