John Clay

Finally, toughness turns the tide

John Clay
John Clay

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Desperate effort.

A desperation shot.

"I told our guys I wanted to see fight for 40 minutes," said Billy Gillispie, "and we fought for 40 minutes."

There are times when all that toughness talk rings hollow, when errors are explained away too often by the simplistic reasoning that, well, "we just weren't tough enough."

But Tuesday night at Rupp Arena, as Kentucky beat Florida 68-65 in one of those head-knocking affairs that cause the pulse to quicken, backs-to-the-wall toughness was what it was all about for the boys in Blue and White.

Give ample credit to Jodie Meeks for somehow muscling in that desperation three-pointer with a tick left on the shot clock and 4.7 seconds left on the game clock that provided the difference in the Cats' win.

"I even slapped at his hand, and he still got it up and made it," said the Gators' Nick Calathes

"It was probably a lucky shot," said Gillispie. "But I really do believe that you deserve one of those every once in a while."

You deserve it when you play with the desperation of never-say-die.

Here's the set-up: You're Kentucky, and you've lost three straight games, two on your home floor. (Kentucky doesn't do that.) Now you're down six points to your hated conference rival. Your center and arguably best player, Patrick Patterson, is out with (at least) an ankle sprain. You're down six points, 60-54 with 4:33 left, then 62-56 with 3:19 remaining, and somehow you rally.

You score on your last five possessions. Meeks hits a three with 3:05 left to cut the deficit to 62-59. Then Meeks scores on a drive to make it 62-61. Then Darius Miller, who has played all of three minutes the second half, a freshman, makes two free throws with 1:38 left to cut the lead to 64-63. Then Meeks makes two free throws with :59.3 left to put the Cats ahead 65-64.

Yes, the Cats got some luck. On a night when the home team uncharacteristically made just nine of 16 free throws, Florida was the team who killed itself at the foul line. Chandler Parsons, the Gators' forward who had been playing so well lately, who on this night scored just two points in 24 minutes, missed two foul shots with 2:40 left.

Dan Werner, the senior forward, the one who almost committed to UK before inking with the Gators, saw his wide-open three-pointer roll out that would have put the Gators up 67-63. Werner then missed the second of two free throws that would have given the visitors a one-point lead with 40 seconds remaining.

And at the end, when Kevin Galloway somehow fouled Calathes in three-point territory, after Meeks' miraculous shot, Calathes missed the first two of his three at the line — and that was the ball game.

It was the only mistake Galloway made all night, or so it seemed. You might not be familiar with Mr. Galloway. Junior college transfer. Joined the team this year, though you might have thought he joined it for just this game. He was the spark, with six points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

"He had an aggressive attitude," said Gillispie, who, this game, inserted Galloway and left him there. "I don't like guys looking scared. We've had way too much of that lately."

There was a reason for that. Gillispie had said that this was not a must-win game, but that's what coaches always say. A loss and the Cats would have dropped two games behind the Gators with a trip to Gainesville left on the docket — not to mention trips to Fayetteville, Nashville and Columbia.

If not a must-win, Tuesday night was at least a must-fight, which is exactly what the Cats did. The chips down, their center down and down on the scoreboard, they scratched and clawed and fought and toughed it out.

"It's the best 40 minutes of effort we've put together," said Gillispie.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.