UK Men's Basketball

Vandy defense doesn't rest

When it comes to conference play, beginning with Kentucky's opener against Vanderbilt on Saturday, familiarity breeds competition.

For UK, that means Southeastern Conference opponents will try to make someone other than Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks win the game.

"If you're playing Kentucky, you're going to try your best not to let Patrick and Jodie beat you," UK Coach Billy Gillispie said at a Friday news conference. "That's where you have to start and other players have to step up and make plays. I'd assume that's the way it'll be in all 16 games."

Meeks, whose 24.4-point scoring average in non-conference play led all SEC players, expects he and Patterson will command Vandy's full defensive attention.

"When we have the ball and when we don't have the ball," Meeks said. "For this team to be good, we need other guys to step up and hit open shots and make good decisions."

But who?

While identifying a third scorer has become a frequent topic, Gillispie said he'd prefer to have several players chipping in seven or eight points a game rather than a third option contributing, say, 16 points a game with no one else making much of a dent in the scoreboard.

"We had three scorers last year and (opponents) didn't have to guard some players," the UK coach said. "I wanted all five guys to have to be guarded."

Statistically, Vanderbilt defends well against any potential scorer. The Commodores have held opponents to 35.6-percent shooting, the fourth-best number in the country. Opponents average 58.4 points, which ranks 21st nationally.

"Our thing is playing good team defense," Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings said on Thursday's SEC teleconference. "We might not have an outstanding individual defender. But as a unit, so far, we've been pretty effective."

No Vandy opponent has shot with even 38-percent accuracy since Dec. 3. And only two — Virginia Commonwealth and Illinois-Chicago — did better than that all season (42.4 and 44.8 percent, respectively).

"They really do a good job not letting you have very many easy baskets," Gillispie said. "They stay between you and the basket. That sounds simple. You have to shoot over their defense. You usually have to earn baskets."

Michael Porter acknowledged the need for other UK players to shoulder more of the scoring load.

"We've been needing to step up all year to help those two guys out," he said. "Now more than ever. (SEC) teams know how to defend you a lot better. Plus (the Commodores) are a good defensive team, anyway."

Although primarily a man-to-man team, Vandy used a zone to limit Massachusetts to 28.6-percent shooting.

The possibility of a trick defense — say a box-and-one or a triangle-and-two — has been a topic of practice conversation, Meeks and Patterson said.

"That's just going to give my teammates more open shots," Meeks said. "If they play that (a box-and-one), this team is a smart team. They know what to do. I have to be patient and not force shots."

Gillispie lamented the open shots that UK players — other than Meeks and Patterson, of course — pass up or hesitate before shooting.

"One percent doubt sometimes can override 99 percent of what you believe is true," the UK coach said.

Patterson mentioned several teammates as possible third or fourth or fifth scorers: Ramon Harris, DeAndre Liggins, Michael Porter, Perry Stevenson, Josh Harrellson.

Patterson singled out A.J. Stewart as a teammate who would be a "huge factor" in SEC play.

Many UK players have been taking extra shots after practice, Patterson said. When a reporter facetiously asked if the players were making more shots, Patterson said, "Yeah, they're making them. Even if they miss those, we say, 'Good shot.' "

Patterson noted the extra defensive attention that comes with league play. More doubling-down on the post. Vandy kept two defenders on him last season, UK's big man said.

Presuming extra attention for Meeks, that creates opportunity for the other Cats.

"It's their time to step up and shine," Patterson said.