UK Men's Basketball

Wildcats not a triple threat yet

When it comes to championship-caliber offense, two's company and three's a crown.

Kentucky's got two-thirds of the formula in Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks, "One of the best combos in the country," ESPN commentator Dick Vitale said this week.

But UK's third scorer? That remains as much a mystery as Kentucky's championship ambitions are clearly identified on an annual basis.

"There's only one standard they shoot for," Vitale said. "And I really believe you have to have three prongs."

North Carolina has Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington (and two or three more scorers, if necessary).

Duke's back-to-back champions of 1991 and 1992 had Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley.

Kentucky's 1996 champs had Derek Anderson, Tony Delk and Antoine Walker.

"They'll win a lot of games with what they have, obviously," Vitale said of this season's Kentucky team. "But I don't know about a national championship. Somebody has to step up. Now the question is who will be that guy?"

As the competition becomes stiffer, beginning with Sunday's game at No. 18 Louisville, UK expects the need for a third scorer to grow.

Bigger, stronger opponents will concentrate defenses on Patterson and Meeks. More and more UK faces zones that concentrate on Patterson. The Cats expect more exotic defenses to come.

"Maybe a box-and-one on Jodie," Patterson said recently. "Or a triangle-and-two."

Vitale all but predicted trick defenses designed to stifle Patterson and Meeks, thus inviting someone else to win the game.

"Box-and-one, yeah, you'll get that," the ebullient broadcaster said. "You'll get a diamond-and-one" with Meeks getting the one-on-one defender.

"It'll be interesting to see what other guys will do. It'll leave other people open."

UK Coach Billy Gillispie has spoken of several UK players being able to join Patterson and Meeks as consistent double-digit scorers. He spoke of Ramon Harris, DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson as capable of scoring averages of 10-plus points. He said Perry Stevenson "needs to average close to" 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Patterson also spoke of several options. He noted two other teammates, which either means Kentucky has an abundance of options or an especially muddled expectation of a third scorer.

"Somebody has to step up," Patterson said. "Darius (Miller, the freshman from Mason County) can step up and drive to the basket. 'KG' (Kevin Galloway) can drive to the basket. ...

"We have a bunch of players who can step up."

Since 1950, Kentucky has had two or fewer double-digit scoring averages in nine seasons. Twice the Cats advanced to the Final Four: 1992-93 (Jamal Mashburn and Travis Ford) and 1996-97 (Ron Mercer and Derek Anderson). More often, UK quietly left the college basketball stage long before the Final Four: first-round knockout in 1980-81 and 1986-87, no bid in 1962-63 and Sweet 16 exit in 1984-85, 2000-01 and 2001-02.

Kentucky's last game might have served as prelude to the coming necessity for a third scorer.

Early in the victory over Central Michigan, Gillispie benched Meeks. "I want Jodie to shoot it every time he can when he's not guarded," the UK coach said of the quick benching. "I thought that shot was guarded."

But Meeks might be feeling the burden to make perimeter shots to loosen up defenses around Patterson.

Gillispie spoke of Kentucky's inconsistent perimeter shooting in the last two games when he said, "People are going to make us shoot 10-for-22 to prove we can make shots. Two-for-18 on one day. Ten-for-22 the next. We have to gain some consistency there or they're going to pack it in.

"That's what I assume everyone will do."

Starting guard Michael Porter broke out of a prolonged shooting slump against Central Michigan. He made four of eight shots (two of five from three-point range) against the Chippewas after having had hit just six of 29 shots (four of 21 from beyond the arc) in the previous 10 games.

When asked the importance of a third scorer emerging, Porter said, "I think it'll help a lot. If teams are going to sit back in a zone, then we have to make those shots.

"Or they're going to sit back on Pat and not let Jodie shoot."