UK Men's Basketball

Meeks in Vols' heads

Remember the Meeks.

Tennessee figures to bring that battle cry into its game at Kentucky on Saturday. When the teams played in Knoxville last month, Meeks turned Thompson-Boling Arena into a modern version of studio 54 ... as in a school-record 54 points, as in the most points scored by a Southeastern Conference player since 1989.

"He scored on seven different guys, so we'll probably all be motivated," Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl said on an SEC teleconference on Thursday.

Pearl suggested a more important motivator will be how the winner gets at least a share of first place in the SEC Eastern Division.

True enough. But Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy, who used Tennessee's humiliation as a motivator for his players to defend Meeks two weeks later, noted a personal stake in the game.

"I guarantee you those kids have not forgotten that," Kennedy said of the Tennessee players. "... It was the performance of the year in college basketball. It was an unbelievable performance and I'm sure those kids at Tennessee remember that."

Tennessee freshman Scotty Hopson, a native of Hopkinsville, acknowledged how a record-breaking performance annoys the opposition.

"Of course, we didn't feel good," he said.

Rubbing salt in the wounded feelings, ESPN's SportsCenter celebrated Meeks' performance ad nauseam.

"That just makes us more hungry," Hopson said. "We want that to never happen again."

In a telephone interview, Tyler Smith, UT's leading light and the league's pre-season choice for Player of the Year, bristled at questions about the Vols attempting to defend Meeks again.

"Everybody's making a big deal about how much he scored," Smith said. "He was hot that game. We get another chance at it."

Smith suggested that the Vols will alter their strategy in the rematch. In the first meeting, UT treated Meeks like just any other opponent. "We tried to play him one on one," he said. "We weren't helping our teammate. ...

"We didn't adjust. When a player is making plays, we have to adjust."

Apparently, the Vols will adjust.

Patrick Patterson's return — Pearl spoke of expecting the return of the UK big man — complicates the adjustment and makes Kentucky's two primary scorers more difficult to contain.

"More than one guy covers Patterson," Pearl said. "And it takes the whole team to cover Meeks. That puts your whole defense at risk."

Patterson requires a double-team with one defender behind and one in front.

"So it really occupies one other help defender who could be involved in getting Jodie Meeks identified," the Tennessee coach said. "(The Cats) are twice as hard to cover."

Kentucky's official blog reported that Patterson participated in the entire practice on Thursday.

"I thought he looked real good early, but I thought he started favoring his ankle late," UK Coach Billy Gillispie said on the blog. "We'll see how he comes out after practice."

During his turn on the SEC teleconference, Gillispie put the onus on Meeks' teammates.

"He's definitely garnered that respect," the UK coach said of any added defensive attention placed on Meeks. "If we don't give him any more help than the other night (at Vandy), then it's going to be a tough night for Jodie as well."

Pearl noted his team's struggle to defend perimeter scorers before saying of Meeks, "he's probably the toughest perimeter player in the country to cover."

Going into this week's play, Tennessee had improved its defensive numbers: No. 4 among SEC teams in field-goal defense (43.9 percent) and third in points allowed (69.9 per game).

"Our interior defense has been our strength all year," Pearl said. "... Our perimeter defense has improved. But it's still not our strength."

For all the hype surrounding Meeks' 54 points and the teams playing again, Smith said the focus should be on who wins the game and who remains in first place.

"We just want the 'W,' " Tennessee's main man said. "It doesn't matter if (Meeks) scores 70."

The reference to Meeks scoring 70 points was a figure of speech.

"It's not going to happen," Smith said. "I guarantee that."

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