Sports

Mark Story: Cats merrily sharing the ball

'Twas the night before the night before the Night Before Christmas

And all through the Rupp, the basketball was moving so adroitly one could barely keep up.

Billy Gillispie might look nothing like jolly old Saint Nick. But his improving basketball team has embraced this season of giving.

Behind a double-30 from Patrick Patterson (33 points) and Jodie Meeks (32), UK obliterated Tennessee State 102-58 on Monday evening before a merry Rupp Arena crowd of 21,958.

It was the second straight game in which UK's dynamic duo combined for 65. In Saturday's demolition of Appalachian State, Meeks had 46 and Patterson 19.

Yet as much fun as watching Meeks and Patterson strut their stuff was, the most encouraging part of the night was watching the Wildcats share.

The Cats had 40 field goals. Thirty came directly off a pass from a teammate.

It was a continuation from Saturday. In the 93-69 smoking of Appalachian State in Freedom Hall, UK scored 31 baskets. Twenty-three of them were assisted buckets.

Allowing for the fact that the past two games were against teams from lower-rung conferences, such offensive proficiency bears little resemblance to the UK of early this year.

Those Cats were creating more turnovers than Magee's Bakery.

Now, the UK offense is starting to purr like, well, a big Cat.

"We haven't changed anything," Gillispie said. "It's just a lot of repetitions and young people starting to come along. We're really learning to play better together."

The epitome of this night of sharing came early. With 14:04 left in the first half, Meeks fed the ball from the right wing to Perry Stevenson along the baseline. Stevenson whipped the ball into the middle of the lane to Kevin Galloway.

Making a touch pass, Galloway redirected the ball to a wide-open Patterson for a thunderous dunk.

By halftime, Kentucky led 59-24 and had 16 assists on 23 baskets.

With 11:31 left in the game, there was a statistical imbalance of unique vastness. Kentucky had 24 assists. Tennessee State was shown with one.

Good teams, of course, know how to get the ball to their scorers. Coming off his career high Saturday, Meeks remained white-hot in the first half.

In the final 4:05 before halftime, the pride of Norcross, Ga., poured in five three-pointers. At one point, he appeared to pull up on the UK logo near the mid-court circle and let fly.

"That was sort of a heat check," Meeks said. "I really didn't know where I was on the floor. I thought it was in when I shot it, but about halfway to the goal I could tell it was off to the right. I should have come in a couple of steps."

It seemed like that was the only shot the 6-foot-4 Meeks missed in half one (he actually missed four). But he finished the first half with 27 points.

The second half, however, belonged to Patterson. The UK big man — who clearly appears to be working his way back into top form coming off ankle surgery — hit 10 of 11 shots after intermission.

The combination of scorching hot wing shooter and skilled post player (We need a nickname for Patterson and Meeks. Submissions at the e-mail address below are welcome.) has the potential of making Kentucky very difficult to defend.

"It's like pick your poison," said UK's Galloway.

A big reason for the dramatic increase in offensive proficiency, Gillispie said, is that Kentucky's guards have finally figured out how to feed Patterson in the low post.

"Pat is really good at sealing his man off on the high side," the UK coach said. "Tonight was the first time all year I thought we really did a good job of reversing the ball and making that pass."

Of course, torching Tennessee State with scintillating ball movement is not the same as torching Tennessee. Passes leading to baskets against Appalachian State in Freedom Hall may not do the same against a pressing Louisville.

Said Gillispie: "When we get into league play and the competition steps up, we'll see."

So we will.

But for the second straight game, UK moved the ball as if it had fully embraced that it is better to give than receive.

As I left Rupp, I could have sworn I heard a voice that sounded just like Gillispie:

"Merry ball movement from all and for all a good night."

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