UK Men's Basketball

Tigers are nightmare matchup

Kentucky-Louisiana State features the nation's fifth-most prolific scorer (Jodie Meeks) competing against arguably college basketball's best defender (Garrett Temple).

But that's not the matchup most on Kentucky's mind going into Saturday's game.

That distinction belongs to UK big man Patrick Patterson operating against an LSU front line led by shot blocker Chris Johnson.

"We want to take advantage of the inside," Patterson said of the message Coach Billy Gillispie delivered to the team. " ... He said he'd get the game plan ready. If we execute the game plan, we're going to win."

Patterson, who has a 25-pound advantage on Johnson, will be going against the Southeastern Conference's second busiest shot blocker. Johnson averages 2.9 blocks.

Patterson's plan will be much the same as it was at South Carolina on Wednesday, when the Gamecocks rejected several of his shots en route to a school-record 16 blocks.

"Just go into his chest," Patterson said. "If he's guarding me, hopefully I can back him down as far as possible. I know he weighs less than I do. Our objective is to get him under the basket as much as possible."

Although South Carolina routed Kentucky, Gillispie took solace in the Gamecocks' 16 blocks. At least UK was getting the ball to Patterson.

"Sometimes you find positives in unfortunate situations," Gillispie said. "The good thing was he got 24 shots," which was a career high for Patterson.

"I'd like to see us really concentrate on getting him the ball like that. I think we'll have a great deal of success if we do."

Ever the rough, tough hombre, Gillispie approved of Patterson's reaction to the South Carolina blocks. Patterson got mad enough to spike the ball after scoring an otherwise meaningless basket late in the game.

"He goes, like, 'Finally, that's the side I've wanted to see,' " Patterson said of the coach's reaction. "He said that's the way he wants me to play: with toughness."

The emphasis on Patterson takes the lead role in UK's offense away from Meeks, the team's leading scorer (25.1 ppg).But like turning in the direction of a skid, going inside first to Patterson should help Meeks, Gillispie said. Meeks endorsed the concept.

"If he gets enough looks, it opens up a lot, not only for me, but all the guards," Meeks said of Patterson. "It frees me up for — not wide-open looks — but good enough looks."

Facing Temple, Meeks might need the help. Temple made his reputation as a defender by holding Duke's J.J. Redick to 3-for-18 shooting and 11 points in the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

"I was just trying to get a hand in his face and contest all his shots, or make him pass the ball back out," Temple said after that game. "I'm a defensive player. This is what I live for."

That made him a perfect fit for first-year LSU coach Trent Johnson, whose players embraced his emphasis on defense.

"That's the first word out of my mouth," Johnson said. "That's the first thing we do every day at practice. Before we start shooting, whether it's Kentucky or the next opponent: this is what they do, and this is how we're going to guard it."

Nobody — at LSU and perhaps the country — does it better than Temple.

"It bothers me to hear people across the country talk about defensive players without bringing his name up," Johnson said. "... If he's not the best defensive player in the league and if he's not one of the top five best defenders in college basketball ..."The LSU coach let that thought trail off and shifted to another. "And I'm not talking about what happened years ago with J.J. Redick. I'm just talking about what you see every day."

LSU played Washington State earlier this year, and Johnson recalled that Daven Harmeling hit four three-pointers against his Stanford team last season and that he made another four in a 2007 game. So Temple got Harmeling and not only held him scoreless but also shotless in a 64-52 LSU victory.

"It's a willingness; it's an eagerness and a competitiveness," Johnson said of Temple's defense. "But it's done without all the chest bumping and all the emotional stuff. It's so much maturity."

If anything, Temple is playing with even more concentration as a senior. "I'm trying to make my last year count," he said earlier this season.

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