Meeks goes 7-for-9 on three-pointers, scores 34 in Gillispie's debut
By Jerry Tipton HERALD-LEADER
The Billy Gillispie era of Kentucky basketball began not with a full-throated roar last night. Presumably, that will come later -- and repeatedly -- in this debut season for the new UK coach.
Polite applause was the order of the night in Rupp Arena. And a 99-64 exhibition victory over Pikeville College gave the fans plenty of reason to clap their hands.
Offensively, sophomore Jodie Meeks put on a shooting show. He hit seven of nine three-point shots in a 27-point first half. In personally matching Pikeville's point total, he swished shot after shot en route to a 34-point game.
"He was hotter than a match," Pikeville Coach Kelly Wells said of Meeks' seven first-half threes. "We wanted to go to zone early to avoid foul trouble. In hindsight, it wasn't the greatest decision in the world."
Meeks' most memorable shot came with 5:59 left. With the shot clock inside the final three seconds, he had no choice but to launch a shot from near the "U" in the interlocking UK logo at center court. It swished to give the Cats a 36-11 lead.
"Kind of crazy," said Meeks, who modestly played down his shooting as just a hot night. "It was kind of a desperate shot. It was a lucky break for us. I can't explain it."
That shot was reminiscent of the first-half shooting spree that Tayshaun Prince put on North Carolina in 2001.
"I thought he was a good shooter when I first came here," Gillispie said of Meeks. "I didn't think he was a great shooter. He's really been a consistent shooter. I don't know how many nights he'll have like that because he was on fire. But I feel real confident every time he shoots."
Gillispie made light of Meeks' three-pointer from the logo. "That was a designed play at end of the shot clock," the UK coach said. "Throw it to Jodie. No one knows what's going on. And let Jodie throw it in."
Meeks' shooting paced a perimeter attack that surprised Wells. "I was shocked beyond belief," he said.
Gillispie termed it a case of taking what the defense gave. "The open man takes the open shot here," he said before adding a qualifier, "with regard to time, score and momentum. If that's the way it's going to be, we'll take them. But we're not going to shoot the three without a purpose."
The UK coach noted that the Cats generally reversed the ball to an open man before launching a three.
More often, it was defensive play and hustle that drew applause.
Ramel Bradley set the tone by taking a charge on Pikeville's third possession. He took another before the half ended. He also challenged a jump shot so effectively that Pikeville's Haakim Johnson returned to the floor with the ball. The up-and-down call was one of Pikeville's 15 first-half turnovers. The Bears finished with 25 turnovers and only nine assists.
Twice in succession, Meeks and Joe Crawford caused turnovers by running into a seemingly open passing lane.
Freshman A.J. Stewart went to the floor for a loose ball, retrieved it and passed it ahead to start a fast break.
In the second half, walk-on starter Mark Coury showed how unselfishly Kentucky played. He came down on a two-on-one fast break. Instead of powering up for the shot, he passed off to freshman Patrick Patterson, who dunked.
Although Billy Gillispie noted that the best play might have been for Coury to try to score, he said the pass typified UK's attitude in practice.
"They do it all the time in practice," he said of the pass-first approach. "I'd be more surprised if they didn't do that."
Gillispie gave passing grades for playing hard and together. But playing smart, the third leg of the coach's tripod foundation for success, brought a more reserved response.
"They tried," he said. "I thought they did a lot of good stuff. They're trying hard."
Gillispie found the defense wanting, particularly in the second half when Pikeville scored 37 points. Partly, he cited the many pre-season injuries that disrupted practice and led to fatigue.
Gillispie lamented the times Pikeville players drove directly to the basket.
"When you go straight to the basket, there's always a penetrate-and-pitch situation," he said. "You have to force them side to side, so help can be more helpful."
Presumably, the Cats will work on their defense going into the next exhibition game, Saturday against Seattle.
"We'll be much improved on Saturday," Gillispie said. "I promise."