UK Men's Basketball

Cats' string music would be sweeter from trio than duet

LOUISVILLE — Amid the bedlam created by the sixth-largest crowd (20,078) ever to see a basketball game in venerable Freedom Hall, one voice stood out.

Seated near midcourt for what turned out to be one of the more memorable Kentucky-Louisville games of recent vintage, a male U of L fan with a high-pitched tenor spent much of Sunday bellowing one thing, over and over, at the visiting Wildcats.

"Two-man team!" Two-man team!" the man kept shouting.

Sometimes, the peanut gallery has a point.

After Kentucky wiped out all of a seven-point deficit in the final 50 seconds, U of L's Edgar Sosa drained a 26-foot three-pointer from the top of the key with 2.8 seconds left to give No. 18 Louisville a 74-71 win.

Billy Gillispie fell to 0-2 vs. Louisville as Kentucky's head coach in spite of getting a combined 50 points — 28 from Jodie Meeks and 22 (with 15 rebounds) from Patrick Patterson — from his big two.

In the aftermath of what was, in many ways, an encouraging Kentucky effort, it was hard not to ask two questions.

How good could the Cats be with a reliable third scorer to complement Meeks and Patterson?

"Oh, man, with a third scorer, it would be hard to deal with those guys," said Clark Kellogg, the CBS basketball analyst who broadcast this doozy of a game.

But here's the rub. Is that player presently wearing UK blue?

"I don't see it right now," Kellogg said. "That doesn't mean someone couldn't develop. Flowers bloom at their own pace. Or they could try it by committee."

Coming into the final UK-U of L game ever to be played in Freedom Hall, the conventional pre-game wisdom was that Rick Pitino would set his defense to "take away" either Patterson or Meeks or both.

However, UK was able to get Patterson 13 shots and Meeks 19.

Behind the main two, however, Kentucky didn't have enough punch to get over the hump.

Michael Porter had eight points and Perry Stevenson seven, but no other Cat scored more than two.

Said Porter: "We need to get Jodie and Pat a little more help. We're asking them to do almost all the scoring, and it would make us harder to defend if (opponents) had to respect more scorers."

Porter, Stevenson and fellow junior Ramon Harris are all respectable college basketball players, but they are complementary players.

To ask them to assume a consistent third scorer's role is perhaps asking too much.

Coming into the year, many felt that freshmen Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins had the skill to become Kentucky's third option.

However, Miller continues to struggle with his confidence. In 13 minutes against U of L, the former Mason County star took only one shot (it missed). One assist was his sole tally on the stat sheet.

Miller has not scored more than five points in the past 12 games. He's gone scoreless in the past two.

Liggins plays with an assertiveness that suggests he thinks he could be a primary scorer.

But Louisville (two assists, three turnovers) was the fifth time this season the Chicago product has had more turnovers than assists in a game. It was the 12th time in 15 games in which he's had at least three turnovers.

Unless Miller gets his confidence (and his Mr. Basketball form) back soon or Liggins' judgment with the ball improves, it might not be realistic to expect UK's freshmen to become part of a big three in 2009.

That would leave a "third-scorer-by-committee" approach for Kentucky.

"I'm not going to spend a lot of time worrying about (developing) a third scorer when we could get six, eight points from several people," Gillispie said.

The Kentucky coach pooh-poohed the whole notion of UK needing a consistent third scorer to thrive.

"I'm sure that will make a good story for you to write," Gillispie said. "Dick Vitale said that, I heard. So that puts it out there for you guys to write. You can write that if you want to."

Well, I do.

In Patterson and Meeks, Kentucky has as good a one-two scoring punch as any team in the country.

Porter, Stevenson, etc ... are developing into quality role players.

As a result, the UK team that lost to VMI and got embarrassed at North Carolina is rounding into something good.

But to become "Kentucky good," one more reliable double-figure scorer has to emerge.

Without that, there might be a lot of hecklers screaming "two-man team" at UK this winter.