John Clay

Everything's better with Patterson

You, dear reader, will be highly impressed by the display of basketball knowledge contained in the second paragraph of this very column.

Kentucky is a much better basketball team with Patrick Patterson on the floor.

You think?

OK, so the Cats thumped Tennessee 77-58 on Saturday in Rupp Arena in a game they had to have. Revved-up rookie Darius Miller was nearly perfect, hitting all six of his shots, nailing three three-pointers, scoring 17 points and dishing six assists. Michael Porter drained three triples. Jodie Meeks was held to 14 points but proved invaluable nonetheless.

And, afterward, Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl claimed he had never been so embarrassed, and he wasn't even talking about that orange sport coat.

Yet, all that might not have happened had not No. 54 laced it up and taken the floor.

"I would say," said his coach, Billy Gillispie, on the return of his best inside player after a two-game hiatus, "it gave the other players a great deal more confidence."

You know that thing about absence makes the heart grow fonder? Here, it applies. Before Patterson suffered that sprained right ankle against Florida on Feb. 10, people had been so caught up in Jodie Meeks' marvelous season they forgot — maybe just a bit — how crucial the Huntington, W.Va., product is to the Cats' cause.

Last Saturday, Kentucky traveled to Arkansas, Patterson was a no-go, and Kentucky won anyway. Meeks detonated for 45 points. A frustrated John Pelphrey was yanking his young Razorbacks around by their jerseys. And the Cats departed the Ozarks with their seventh conference win in 10 games.

Tuesday night at Nashville, however, the Cats' luck ran out. The 'Dores hit the boards with a vengeance. Kentucky looked unfocused, confused. The two-fold result was a convincing victory for Vanderbilt and some serious bubble banter for Kentucky.

Then, Saturday, about an hour before tip-off, as his teammates were taking some warm-up shots around the basket, out came Patterson. He grabbed a basketball. He dribbled out to around the free-throw line. Then he turned and hit an easy jumper, and all was right with the world. Game on.

"It just gives them a great deal of confidence," said Gillispie. "They know he commands respect offensively, defensively. It's another guy in the huddle they can look to when times get tough, whether it's the start of the game, middle of the game or last of the game. They look in his eyes, and his eyes get bigger the tougher it is."

Not that Saturday was all that tough. Buoyed by Patterson's return, the Cats started out in the express lane. It was 13-0 before Tennessee finally scored. Confidence mushroomed. You could see it especially in Miller, who against his friend Scotty Hopson, and with his old high school teammate Chris Lofton in the stands, played the way people have been waiting for him to play this year.

"He can do that game in and game out," said Patterson.

Maybe Miller doesn't do it without Patterson. The sophomore played 30 minutes, scored 19 points, grabbed five rebounds, made two assists. For a team that shot 59.6 percent, he made nine of 12 shots; 4-for-6 first half; 5-for-6 second half. In fact, the silver lining in his absence was that the time off gave his bad finger time to heal. His shot looked much better.

"I don't have to wear that band around my finger anymore. I can just wear that little finger thing over it like I used to early in the season," he said. "The week off not only helped my ankle, it helped a lot with my finger. (That jump shot) felt a lot better."

And the ankle?

"No pain," said Patterson.

Everything felt better, just having him there, on offense, on defense, in the paint, on the perimeter, in the huddle.

"There's a lot of things going on besides making baskets with Pat in the lineup for us," said Gillispie.

So many of them good things.