UK Men's Basketball

Supporting cast outlasts Vandy

Playing without its all-conference big man, it seemed only fair that Vanderbilt's highly rated defense made Kentucky do without the customary contributions from its two leading scorers on Saturday.

Fittingly, how UK would do without big scoring from Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson had been the question going into Southeastern Conference play.

UK's 70-60 victory testified to how well — and how many — teammates stepped up, to use the sporting parlance.

"It says a lot about this team," said Meeks, who scored 21 points the hard way (5-for-16 shooting). "Guys are maturing."

UK Coach Billy Gillispie credited freshman DeAndre Liggins for sparking UK's defense.

Ramon Harris, who had scored only four points since the nasty head-to-head collision with teammate Michael Porter, added 12.

Perry Stevenson scored 10 points.

Josh Harrellson made his first three-pointer since the Indiana game on Dec. 13.

That made moot Meeks' subpar shooting and Patterson's 11 points and career-low one rebound.

"I thought they did really a good job for the most part," Porter said of the Commodores' defense. Of UK's diversified response, he said, "That's what we're going to need because teams are going to start doing that the rest of the conference."

Vandy (11-4) played without All-Conference center A.J. Ogilvy, who sat out the game because of a heel bruise.

But the Commodores still had a defense ranked fourth nationally in limiting opponents to 35.6 percent shooting.

When asked if the attention to Meeks-Patterson created opportunities for other UK players, Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said, "Sure it does. Sure it does. And that's OK. You pick your poison. Those two guys might be two of the five best, maybe the best two players in the league.

"If one guy is averaging 24 (Meeks) and the other 19 (Patterson), and the next 6.9, I'm not very smart. But I get that equation."

Improbable baskets by improbable players fueled UK to a 31-27 halftime lead.

Foul trouble lessened Patterson's impact in the first half. He picked up his second and went to the bench with 10:12 left. He had scored two points and grabbed one rebound.

That allowed Vandy to concentrate its defense on Meeks. Kentucky floundered for a while. Liggins twice tried to maneuver around defenders, only to fire up bricks and look like a freshman still learning his way. In each case, he seemed to forget that point guards set up teammates.

Bad luck also contributed to Kentucky's offensive woes. A.J. Stewart's offensive goaltend erased his put-back dunk from the scoreboard. Darius Miller pulled up in the lane and shot a soft jumper that defied gravity. As the ball curled back over the rim and out, Miller recoiled as if hit by a stiff jab.

Trailing 25-19 with the shot clock inside five seconds, Porter found Harrellson alone on the right wing with a desperate pass. Harrellson swished a three-pointer.

Kentucky tied it with 1:29 left when Harris hit a three-pointer from the left corner. That was the first time since the 17:01 mark that UK didn't trail and Harris' first three-pointer since the Lamar game on Dec. 3.

After Stevenson drove purposefully to a basket to put UK ahead 29-27 with 59 seconds left, Porter extended the lead with a 15-footer. His only basket of the half came with 10 seconds left and found the basket over three defenders.

"Yeah, I planned it," Porter said facetiously. "I knew the shot clock was winding down, and I just had to get up a shot."

Despite the absence of Ogilvy, Vandy led much of the half. Freshman Jeffery Taylor's three-pointer brought the lead to its zenith, 16-8, with 13:08 left.

Kentucky established a 20-point lead barely 10 minutes into the second half.

Gillispie credited Liggins, whose harassing defense sped up Vandy and revved up the crowd.

"Really a nice deal for us to extend the lead," the UK coach said.

Added Liggins: "I made some defensive stops, and that got the crowd into it. We got going and got momentum."

Meeks banked in a three-pointer from the left side with 14:39 left that pushed him into double digits.

"I'm just glad it went in," said Meeks, who admitted he did not intend to bank in the shot. "When I shot it, I thought it was off. So when I hit it, I was, like, wow."

That shot came early in a 20-4 run that built a 55-35 lead with 9:51 left. "We lost a little composure," Stallings said.

Moments later, the same malady infected Kentucky.

Leading 62-43 with 4:51 left, the Cats saw Vandy twice close to within six points, the first time with almost 90 seconds left.

"Maybe they got casual," Stallings said. "Maybe they thought the game was over. I don't know. Maybe it was over."