Kentucky Opens SEC Play With Win Over Vanderbilt

Jan. 10, 2009

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By Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Consider it payback.

Nearly 11 months ago, the Vanderbilt Commodores handed Kentucky its worse loss in over 17 years in Nashville, Tenn. In their first rematch with their conference rival, the Kentucky Wildcats (12-4, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) got a little revenge with a 70-60 win over Vandy (11-4, 0-1 SEC) on Saturday in front of a season-high crowd of 24,249 fans at Rupp Arena.

Junior Jodie Meeks paved the way for the Wildcats with a game-high 21 points, but the key to UK's victory was the Wildcats' supporting cast. With Patrick Patterson struggling - he finished with 11 points and a career-low one rebound - the Wildcats got a balanced scoring effort from juniors Perry Stevenson (10) and Michael Porter (eight). But the biggest performance came from Ramon Harris, who finished with 12 points.
 
"That's a great game from him," UK Coach Billy Gillispie said. "You don't expect a guy to be perfect, but you do expect a guy to make shots and play and defend. He did a good job of doing that today."

Much of the talk over the past few weeks has centered on who the Wildcats' third scoring option would be. Patterson and Meeks have been the SEC's most prolific offensive tandem this season (43.9 points per game), but it was clear in UK's heartbreaking loss to Louisville that they need a third option.

Several Wildcats are rising to the occasion. Porter is playing his best ball of the season, Stevenson has scored in double digits in four of his last seven games and Harris appears to finally be healthy.

Harris said after the game that he's been playing hesitantly because of health issues that have plagued him since his collision with Porter during the Lamar game on Dec. 3. Harris shook off any lingering effects Saturday, playing his most complete game of the season. Harris was a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor, including 2-for-2 from beyond the arc, and tied for a team-high seven rebounds.

"We have to have some people step up and make a few plays like that and I definitely thought (Harris) did that," Gillispie said. "Ramon really gave us a big lift today."

The Wildcats needed a lift when Patterson found himself on the bench in the first half with two fouls. Even without their star center A.J. Ogilvy, who missed Saturday's game with a bruised bone in his foot, the Commodores staked to an early lead. Vandy nailed its first four 3-pointers en route to an early 16-8 lead.
It wouldn't last long.

After falling behind 25-19 because of a 5:29 scoring drought, the Wildcats stormed into halftime on a 12-2 run. Sophomore Josh Harrellson broke the drought with a 3-pointer, and Meeks followed with it with a steal and runaway dunk.

That gave the Wildcats a 31-27 halftime lead, an advantage they would never relinquish. Another huge run, this time a 24-6 to open the half, gave UK full control of the game. Meeks ignited the second-half rally with another strong effort, but he had some help.

Harris scored seven points after halftime, and freshman DeAndre Liggins and Stevenson slammed the door shut with a slick pass and dunk. Leading 47-35, Liggins stole a pass at halfcourt, raised the length of the floor and slipped a quick behind-the-back pass to a trailing Stevenson. The lanky 6-foot-9 forward grabbed the pass and threw home a two-hand slam, putting the Rupp crowd on its feet and the game out of reach.

"When DeAndre got after them in the backcourt, we had a lead already, but that was really a nice steal for us," Gillispie said.

After starting the game 4-of-4 from behind the arc, the Commodores could never find a groove offensively. Vandy made just three of its last 21 3-point shots and finished the game an ice-cold 29.6 percent from the field. Guard Jermaine Beal led Vandy with 18 points and guard Jeffery Taylor chipped in with another 15.

Vandy cut the score to six points late in the game on a 15-2 run, but it was too little, too late. The Wildcats were already on their way to a 1-0 start in conference play for the third straight season.

"It's going to be very difficult (in conference play), all of them are," Gillispie said. "It's very difficult to win a game home or away. You just feel great about getting a win."