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Patterson rediscovering his game at the right time

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MBSK 09_10 UK_TN Web 17.jpgPatrick Patterson is a freshman when it comes to the NCAA Tournament.

A bad wheel restricted his dancing moves in the 2008 tourney and a subpar season in 2009 didn't even warrant an invite to the Big Dance.

But while the unused dancing shoes might not show it, Patterson's experience will loom large in March. On a team dominated by youth and inexperience, it has long been said that Kentucky will only go as far as its veteran leader is capable of taking them.

If that's indeed the case, what better time for the heart and soul of the program for the better part of the last three years to rediscover his game? In the national shadows of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, Patterson has been quietly rediscovering his game.

A respectable 10-point, seven-rebound outing vs. Tennessee on Saturday appeared to be the start of the turnaround, and now 19 points and 10 rebounds in an 81-75 overtime thriller over Mississippi State has Patterson rounding into shape at the perfect time.

Patterson's game-tying jumper with 39.5 seconds left in regulation capped a 7-0 come-from-behind run to force overtime in a raucous (and sometimes dangerous) environment in Starkville, Miss.

Wall (18 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) was the closer by hitting key free throws down the stretch, but none of it would have mattered had Patterson not come to play. He's the reason UK had a chance to eek one out in overtime.

After the South Carolina loss, fans (and even this writer) started to freak out about the lack of Patterson's presence. Some fans took it into their own hands and started posting on Patterson's Facebook wall.

Patterson took the criticism to heart, responded to the negativity and then quietly went about his business. Head coach John Calipari made Patterson a personal project of his, spending extra time with him before and after practice.

All the while, Calipari told us that NBA scouts were eating up Patterson's game, boasting that high-profile NBA know-it-alls, including Detroit Pistons Director of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars, were seeing Patterson do things that they never knew he was capable of.

Those things, presumably, were Patterson's newfound ability to put the ball on the floor and pull from behind the arc. Entering the season he had never made a 3-poitner. After the Mississippi State game, he now has 18.

Nonetheless, it was also the root of his struggles. Patterson appeared to be drifting a little too much to the outside and forgetting about his ability to dominate in the paint. Then he started deferring to his teammates and became lost in the offense.

It's all good and well, Patterson told us following the South Carolina game. Spoken like a true team leader, he said he was more worried about the team's success than his own personal well being.   

That might all be true, but his worth couldn't have been more obvious Tuesday night in Starkville.

In the first half when few shots were falling from the outside (1-of-12 from 3-point range), Patterson provided consistency. He finished the first frame with nine points and four rebounds before halftime, but it was how he got it that impressed the most.

In the first half alone, Patterson hit a 3-pointer, a turnaround jumper, an offensive put-back and a baseline jumper. For the first time in a long time, we saw the full repertoire from Patterson.

Patterson continued to score in the second half, but it was more about his ability to do the little things that made the difference. Among the key plays that weathered a desperate and pesky Bulldog storm:

- After MSU took an early 37-36 lead in the second half, UK immediately went to Patterson in the paint. He drew back-to-back fouls on Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State's best (and really only legitimate) low post player. Varnado spent most of the game on the bench and eventually fouled out.

- With the Cats teetering on a 42-38 deficit, Patterson took a key charge. Then he got a steal that led to a Wall breakaway and a tie game at 42-42.

- In the waning minutes with UK trailing, Patterson swatted a huge block off the glass that led to an uncontested Eric Bledsoe layup. That cut the score to 67-65, setting the stage for Patterson's heroics.

Those are just some of the highlights, but somewhere between the rim-rattling dunk with eight minutes to play or a key offensive rebound after a Daniel Orton  free-throw miss, Patterson regained his "mojo."

As analyst Jimmy Dykes put it best, it's the best Patterson has played all season long.

It wasn't because Patterson reverted to his old low block self (I'm getting flashbacks of the P-Pat afro, but let's move on) or because he played like a guard. It was because we saw the whole package.

More importantly, it was because he became more assertive and his teammates made a concerted effort to get him the ball. As a result, Patterson got his first double-double since the Long Beach State game.

For all the praise about this 25-1 season, Patterson, maybe a bit undeservingly, has been lost in all the talk. It's easy to nitpick when the season numbers are down, yet we somehow forget that he has to share the ball with two potential top-five picks in Wall and Cousins.

The best part of it all is he doesn't mind sharing. Amid the criticism, he's put his team first, his fan base second and himself third.

Patterson will no doubt prosper from his decision to return for his junior season, but there's little doubt that this team and this state benefited the most of that choice. Teams and coaches should be so lucky to have a player like him.

Even after Tuesday's performance, Patterson's numbers aren't going to rebound and come close to his first two seasons. It doesn't matter because it finally put his hard-to-find role into perspective.

He might not score as much as he used to and might not always have the ball in the final seconds, but he's going to provide uncanny leadership and experience this team will need down the stretch.

Down seven points with three minutes left on the road in a hostile environment, the Cats pulled off the type of win that only championship teams conquer. In the process, they got the heart and soul of their team back.

One month away from the NCAA Tournament, it couldn't have come at a better time.

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I am in total agreement. Players like Patrick Patterson are players that are the heart of Kentucky basketball. From the day that he announced his choice as "Kentucky," he has been an ambassador for the university and the common wealth. Thank you Patrick Patterson.

Whatever...we will see.

Patrick is exactly what Kentucky fans imagine when they think of a University of Kentucky basketball player. He's passionate, proud, hard working, unselfish (sometimes too much), and always open to teaching and change. You can't ask for a better "team" player than Patterson. He could easily shine as the 'go to guy' in any other program. His star status could be through the roof. But that's not what makes Patrick what he is, and that is exactly what makes this university so successful. Players of his character and skills will be what ultimately puts the Cats back on top of the national spotlight for years to come. Once recruiting settles into a solid and steady stream look out. This may be only the beginning. He's set the tone for future players. I wish Patrick the best in his future no matter where that takes him. He will always hold a special spot in the hearts of true UK fans.

Good luck and much love to you Mr Patterson.
You truly are a "class act".
Be proud

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  • David Vogel: Patrick is exactly what Kentucky fans imagine when they think of a University of Kentucky basketball player. He's passionate, proud, read more
  • ann underwood: Whatever...we will see. read more
  • Steve Farris: I am in total agreement. Players like Patrick Patterson are players that are the heart of Kentucky basketball. From the read more