Sports

Time for stars to step up

Another Billy G. lineup surprise. DeAndre Liggins starts. Slow start for Cats. Quicker than you can say Gardner-Webb and VMI, down 15-6 to Central Michigan. Grit and spark from Landon Slone. UK ends first half with 36-8 run. Kentucky 84, Central Michigan 52.

Final.

That's enough of that.

Now the good stuff.

When Kentucky visits Freedom Hall on Sunday afternoon for our state's annual armageddon of hoops with Louisville, to an unusual degree, the main Cats have questions to answer.

Patrick Patterson has questions to answer.

Back in the days before Rick Pitino jumped the fence in our state's foremost sports rivalry, Kentucky fans used to revel in how the coach's suffocating defensive traps could thwart even the most accomplished big man (see Duncan, Tim, 1996 NCAA Tournament).

Last year in Rupp Arena, Patterson and the UK fandom found out together what life is like on the other side of those traps.

Hurried and harried all day, Patterson hit only three of 14 shots and had six turnovers in the Cards' 89-75 win in Rupp Arena.

The UK star figures to get more of the same in The Ville.

Does he make the game that Kentucky fans most want to win his own personal step-up Sunday?

Jodie Meeks has questions to answer.

Two years ago, Meeks stamped his name on the UK-U of L rivalry. Then a freshman, he scored 18 points and hit four of seven treys. Which might not sound like much until you consider that the other 21 players in that game combined to go 5-for-35 from behind the arc.

A year ago, however, the Cards had a long memory for the player who had done them in the prior season. Meeks was 1-for-8 from the field.

This year, the junior from Georgia figures to join Patterson as the focal point of the Louisville defense.

Then again, Freedom Hall might as well be known as Jodie Meeks' living room. In addition to his tour de force against the Cards as a freshman, there was his 46-point strafing of Appalachian State in the venerable old Louisville arena earlier this month.

Still, while getting Louisville's best shot, can Meeks make the game that Kentucky fans most want to win his own personal step-up Sunday?

"I think they'll shadow me," Meeks said of what he expects from U of L. "I have to play smart. Don't take too many quick shots, don't force. If I do, I think I'll be fine."

The primary Kentucky ball handlers — Michael Porter and DeAndre Liggins — have questions to answer.

For all the abuse he's taken from a frustrated fan base, Porter has 24 assists to only nine turnovers in his five most recent games (including Monday night's three-assist, four-turnover stat line).

Liggins, meanwhile, had eight assists in his first career start. He also had five turnovers. In his last five games, it's 19 assists and 19 turnovers.

Pitino doesn't press as he did back in his Blue period (U of L is forcing only 16 turnovers a game). But it's hard to believe he won't dial up a big-time press against the Cats.

"I've got to take care of the ball," Porter said. "Distribute to my teammates. Not get in too big a hurry. If we do that, I think we'll be OK."

Billy Gillispie has questions to answer.

Job One for a big-time college sports coach is to beat the teams his fan base hates most.

So far against UK's big three non-conference rivals — North Carolina, Indiana and Louisville — Billy G. is 1-4.

I'm sure I don't need to remind you that Gillispie's immediate predecessor as Kentucky coach had beaten Louisville three in a row when he headed north. Tubby Smith just led Minnesota to victory over U of L, too.

Which would make this a most opportune time for the current Kentucky coach — who did beat Louisville in Rupp Arena as Texas A&M's head man in the 2007 NCAA Tournament — to beat the Men of Pitino as well.

"I haven't studied them," Gillispie said of the Cardinals. "I know they have great personnel. I know they have a great coach. I'm sure they'll get after us over there."

A UK win over a Louisville team that began the season being touted as a likely Final Four entrant would go a long way toward enhancing Gillispie's standing as UK coach with his team's always demanding fan base.

To make Sunday a blue-letter day, the task is clear. The main Cats have to step up with some answers.

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