UK Men's Basketball

Gillispie won't rule out Patterson playing

The victory over Florida on Tuesday suggested that Kentucky was not so dependent on Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks as is widely believed.

But that thought came as little comfort to UK Coach Billy Gillispie as the possibility loomed of playing without Patterson at Arkansas on Saturday.

"Do you want to coach them without Patrick?" he asked at his Friday news conference.

When the reporter shook his head, Gillispie said, "I don't either."

Then the UK coach added, "Now if we have to, we will."

Patterson's status remained in limbo. He did not practice Thursday or Friday after turning his right ankle in the second half against Florida. He has not required crutches but has worn a protective boot on the foot.

Despite not practicing, and given the ultra importance Gillispie places on practice, the UK coach did not rule out Patterson playing at Arkansas.

"That's not the best way to go into a game," Gillispie said. "But it's better than not."

Asked whether Patterson would make the trip to Arkansas, Gillispie answered with one word: "Yeah."

Kentucky has experience playing without Patterson. An unrelated ankle injury, which required surgery, sidelined him for the last three regular-season games and the post-season last year. UK played competitively each game, going 2-3.

When asked whether that experience prepared the Cats to play without Patterson at Arkansas, Gillispie said, "Uh, this year hasn't, really. Last year, half those guys weren't even here. And basically all of them were playing different roles."

Kentucky could use Patterson for many reasons, among them a counter inside against forward Michael Washington, who leads Arkansas in scoring (16.5 ppg) and rebounding (9.7 rpg).

Sitting behind a senior-laden corps of front-court players, Washington averaged 4.3 points and 3.9 rebounds last season.

"I doubt anybody in the country has improved more than him," Gillispie said.

Before his team played Arkansas, Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury said of Washington, "I thought he was the most talented of all those big guys they had last year, a guy that probably had as much ability or more to play on the next level. Now he's got all those other big guys out of his way and knows he's the guy on the inside.

"They've done a great job of getting him the ball and getting him playing with a lot of confidence. There's no substitute for that."

After Washington scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds against his team, Texas Coach Rick Barnes said, "We didn't have an answer for him."

Coach John Pelphrey made it clear to Washington what was expected of him this season after the Razorbacks ended last season with a 108-77 loss to No. 1 North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament's second round.

"Before the sweat even dried on Michael Washington's body last year from the North Carolina game, I told him that his role had changed," Pelphrey said. "You've got to find a way to get your body in good enough shape and be big and strong enough where you can handle playing 30 minutes a night.

"To that kid's credit, he did that. He physically changed himself. He's in great shape. He's committed to playing every single possession."

But there's a big difference on Saturday. Washington won't have point guard Courtney Fortson delivering passes into the post. Pelphrey announced Thursday that Fortson had been indefinitely suspended. Gone was the Razorbacks' leading assist man (6.5 apg) and floor leader.

Although Fortson also leads Arkansas in minutes played (32.4 per game), Gillispie suggested that the Hogs would be dangerous without their point guard.

"They've played very, very, very well without him," the UK coach said. "... Obviously, it's a rallying situation for them. 'Us against the world.' So they'll be at their absolute best, and they have other good players."

At his Thursday news conference, Pelphrey was told that a skeptical person might say that Arkansas could not beat Kentucky without Fortson.

"Please say it," Pelphrey replied.

When asked why he wanted that negative attitude expressed, Pelphrey said, "I wouldn't blame you for saying it. But I've played enough and coached enough to know that it's still a game. It's not played on paper. We have an unbelievable home court.

"If you have an unbelievable attitude, if you encourage your teammates, if you've got an understanding of what it's all about to be a part of a team, anything is possible."

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