KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - In 74 seconds Jodie Meeks went from having a memorable game to an iconic one, putting an exclamation point on the single highest scoring performance in Kentucky's illustrious history.
Meeks set a school record for points in a game with 54, breaking Dan Issel's 39-year old record of 53, but it was one explosive sequence with the game in the balance that will forever define the Cats' 90-72 victory over rival Tennessee in front of 20,474 fans at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Scoring can come in bunches but changing the course of the game is what legends are made of. Meeks did both on a frigid night on the banks of the Tennessee River, in a house that saw greats like Allan Houston and Chris Lofton once thrill the masses.
"I was just trying to play to win," a humble Meeks said. "I was more concerned with Tennessee trying to make a run and doing anything I could to help my teammates and get a win. It just so happened it was me that made big shots. I had a couple inches of space so I kept shooting and they went in."
Did they ever. Still, not until Meeks silenced the crowd as Tennessee made one final run did the effort become one for the ages. The Cats led just 71-64 with six minutes remaining after holding a 16-point advantage just three minutes before Meeks offered up one more unbelievable sequence.
The junior guard took an inbound pass in the right corner, side-stepped a gambling Tennessee defender and buried his ninth three-pointer of the game to push the Cats' lead to 74-64 with 5:25 on the clock. On the ensuing defensive possession Meeks leapt high into the air to pick off a Cameron Tatum pass from the wing then swished a step back NBA-length three from the right wing to give UK a 13-point cushion. Thirty-six ticks later his drew a foul on a three-pointer and hit all three charity tosses to make the lead 16 once again.
Game. Set. Match.
"Those are huge because they were defending us and we weren't in the bonus and they had gained momentum," UK coach Billy Gillispie said. "They were cutting into (the lead) and we were looking pretty shaky and he just makes two more shots. Every time they made two he made three. Every shot was huge."
Guarded, unguarded, right wing, left wing, top of the key, off a screen, off the bounce, none of it mattered. When Meeks flicked his right wrist it appeared everything was going to tickle the twine.
"We tried to deny Jodie Meeks the basketball, but to show how pitiful we were, Meeks did anything he wanted to do," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "We tried to guard him as a team, but we were not able to get anything done. We were frustrated at not being more aggressive against him."
To UK the victory was about more than just Meeks' sensational performance, it meant claiming an early edge over the team most people predicted would win a second consecutive SEC East title this season. Although there is a long way to go in the conference race a victory on Tennessee's home floor - the first for a SEC team since UK turned the trick in 2005-06 - suggest the Volunteers may not be as consensus a favorite as once thought.
"It's a huge win and it means a lot for us," forward Patrick Patterson said. "Everyone says they are the best team in the SEC and people have doubted us but we believe in one another. This is huge for us."
Pearl did not disagree.
"They were clearly the better team," Pearl said of Kentucky.
Like Meeks was clearly head and shoulders above anyone else on the floor.