Posts from the SEC Tournament
Tampa ends too early
Posted March 13 at 6:05 p.m. ET – Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
I’m going to have to make this pretty quick and short because I have to eat and pack up before we leave, but there is no hiding the disappointment around these parts.
Everybody is disappointed we’re leaving Tampa, Fla., disappointed Kentucky couldn’t make it to the weekend at its usual stomping ground and disappointed to take what was likely the final blow to UK’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
“It’s obviously disappointing,” junior Jodie Meeks said. “You want to win and you want to make the (NCAA) Tournament. We’re not going to give up though and we’re going to keep working.”
Had the Cats done better in the final stretch of regular season games, they might not be in the position they’re in now. Either way, it appears the only postseason UK can hope for at this point is likely a chance to play in the National Invitational Tournament.
If there was ever an indication of what separated an NCAA Tournament team from the Cats, Louisiana State might have showed it Friday afternoon. The Tigers were experienced, they were poised, they won the loose balls, they hit clutch shots and they didn’t turn it over.
“I’m not an excuse maker, but it was a very experienced team on one side and a very inexperienced team on the other,” UK Coach Billy Gillispie said. “They made those plays time and time again and we in the toughest situations have probably not executed nearly as well.”
As Gillispie said afterward, UK did what it wanted to in terms of getting the ball to the post, but the Cats didn’t finish enough of those plays.
I certainly agree with that, but it also goes back to UK didn’t have as many of those plays to make. Every time I look at the stat sheet, my eyes immediately go to the shot differential between both teams. LSU shot the ball 16 more times than the Cats. I’m not sure of any team that can win when that happens.
That comes down to getting the loose balls, limiting the turnovers and keeping the other team off the glass. UK turned it over 15 times, gave up 17 offensive boards and lost about 75 percent of the loose balls. That leads to extra shots and ultimately a win for LSU.
The Cats were close for most of the game, but it never felt like they had enough to get over the experience and savvy of LSU. Every time UK made a run and got within a couple of points, the Tigers would come down and knock down a huge 3-pointer or come up with a timely turnover.
UK’s typical playmaker and scorer, Meeks, was needed for some huge second-half baskets if the Cats were going to overtake the Tigers, but he was held in check all afternoon by Garrett Temple, who held Meeks to just eight points.
“He did a great job with me,” Meeks said. “They did a good job of helping him if I got past him. They did a good job with team defense.”
So now the realization of a likely NIT bid must settle in with the Cats. Sophomore Patrick Patterson wouldn’t call it disappointing, but there is no doubt UK expected much more as close as a month ago.
“I wouldn’t consider the season a disappointment but I would consider it a season where we could have done a lot better,” sophomore Patrick Patterson said.
Meeks said he’ll probably watch Selection Show on Sunday to watch the bids, but he said he’s not going to pay too much attention to who gets in and where.
Gillispie said they’ll have to wait and see if they’re even invited to the NIT, but said they’ll go back to work right away to try to win their next game – wherever that will be.
“If there is still basketball to be played – that we can play in – and that’s the NIT, then I’m fine with that,” Patterson said. “We’re hopeful for the NCAA Tournament but since we can’t probably get in it, if the NIT accepts us, then we’ll play and I feel everybody will be excited because it will be more basketball to play.”
Maybe so, but there is clearly disappointment following this loss to LSU.
That’s all from me from Tampa. I have to get out of here and get something to eat before our bus departs for the airport. Our plane is supposed to leave around 9 p.m. and we should arrive in Lexington no later than about 11 p.m. or so. I hear there is snow back in the Bluegrass State. I’ll surely miss this weather.
Thanks again for joining us for the SEC Tournament blog this week. I hope everybody enjoyed it.
Sporting News names Meeks an All-American
Posted March 12 at 5:29 p.m. ET - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
In case you missed it on the live blog earlier, Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks has been named a second-team All-American by Sporting News.
Meeks is the nation's fifth-leading scorer, averaging 24.7 points per game. Meeks scored a game-high 25 points in UK's 71-58 victory over Ole Miss in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
As I'm finishing up here, Mississippi State just got done crushing Georgia 79-60. The Bulldogs got 19 points from Kodi Augustus and a double-double (14 points and 12 rebounds) from Jarvis Varnado.
Mississippi State will play South Carolina on Friday at 3:15 p.m. The winner of that game will face the winner of the UK-LSU game.
Post-game thoughts and notes
Posted March 12 at 4:45 p.m. ET - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Forget the 25 points Jodie Meeks scored and the 15-point, 14-rebound performance Patrick Patterson poured in against Ole Miss.
The difference Thursday from the past four games came down to two things: balanced scoring and better defense.
Don't get me wrong - UK doesn't win without Meeks and Patterson. But the Cats don't beat Ole Miss without the play of Darius Miller or Perry Stevenson either.
Miller played beyond his years, looking more like a senior than the word freshman that resides by his name on the score sheet. Miller scored 12 points and added two assists, but he did so much more than the stat line indicated.
"He played great, especially against their zone," UK Coach Billy Gillispie said. "That's the way I thought he would play all year long."
Teams have been playing zone more and more against UK in recent games and the Cats have been unable to counter. As Meeks' scoring has started to subside in recent games, especially from the perimeter, UK has had no answer to solving the zone other than getting it to Patterson on the low block.
On Thursday in the St. Pete Times Forum, UK might have found a permanent solution in Miller. He played what I like to call a "zone buster" against Ole Miss.
The freshman from Maysville, Ky., continually found creases in the zone for mid-range jumpers. When the Rebels would collapse, Patterson and Stevenson were open for on the low block for an easy layup or dunk.
Miller played so well that he was pretty much given the ball in the final five minutes to run the point. Keep in mind that this is a freshman we're talking about on a team that looked like it was in a season-ending tailspin.
"After our last loss, coach told us not to look on the past," Miller said. "We had to move forward or that was probably going to hinder us to for this game. We really tried to not focus on the past and focus on the future."
Nobody might have done that more so that Stevenson. After seven straight games of failing to get into double digits in both points and rebounds, Stevenson looked like a totally different player.
He was scrappier, more passionate and a heck of a lot more productive than the Stevenson that has showed up lately.
"He was more active on the offensive boards," Meeks said. "He gave us a low post presence the majority of the game. When he plays like that, it brings energy not only to the low post guys but to the whole team."
Stevenson finished the game with 13 points and eight rebounds, four coming on the offensive glass.
It seemed like every time UK got into the lane, Stevenson was able to slide on the low block and get a layup or get fouled. A lot of credit has to go to the UK guards for attacking the zone and finding Stevenson, but don't forget to give the big man his props for exploiting the zone over and over again.
"On the zone, the middle was open a lot," Meeks said. "I thought he did a good job, along with Patrick and (Josh) Harrellson of flashing to the middle and giving us a threat in the middle, which opened up the outside."
And finally, let's not forget about the defensive job UK did on Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Terrico White in the second half.
White knocked down jumper after jumper in the first half - he was 5-of-7 overall before the half - on the way to 15 first-half points and a 38-36 Ole Miss lead.
But the Cats didn't let him breathe in the second half and he scored just more points the rest of the way.
When UK was able to stop him, they took control in the second half. The difference was the Cats' ability to pressure him the second he got the ball.
"We wanted to just pressure him as much as we can," said Ramon Harris, who guarded White primarily in the second half. "If you let him have too much space, he's too good of a player to do that. We switched (defenses) a couple of times and tried to give him a different look.
"We just wanted to make a defensive stance. We know that we're a defensive team, a blue-collar team. We know that our game starts on the defensive end."
It was one of the main reasons behind UK's start to the SEC Tournament.
Gillispie said they would celebrate for about 30 minutes before they thought about their matchup with SEC regular-season champion Louisiana State.
If UK gets the same type of performance tomorrow from Miller, Patterson and the defense, the Cats could be staying around for the weekend.
Oh, and another 25 points from Meeks and 15-point, 14-rebound performance from Patterson wouldn't hurt either.
That's going to wrap it up for me today for the afternoon session. In case you aren't watching, Mississippi State is currently leading Georgia midway through the second half. There will be a break after that game before two more games later this evening.
I'm not entirely sure what my plans are tonight, but I'm hoping to come back over here, watch a little bit of the games and maybe fill you all in on a little bit of the action. We'll see what happens. Either way, we'll be back here tomorrow at 1 p.m. for the UK-LSU game. I hope to see everybody then.
Harris joins the media
Posted March 11 at 3:31 p.m. ET - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
First things first: UK has to beat Ole Miss before thinking ahead
Posted March 11 at 3:20 p.m. ET - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Patrick Patterson isn't on the NCAA selection committee, but in his opinion Kentucky has one way of getting into the NCAA Tournament.
"To get an at-large bid, (we) have to win the SEC Tournament," Patterson said.
That would actually earn UK an automatic berth, but after dropping four straight games to end the regular season, Patterson might not be far from the truth. Maybe the Cats don't have to win the championship game, but advancing deep into the tournament is a top priority if UK wants to even sniff the excitement of the Big Dance.
As the regular season indicated, UK isn't it the hands-on favorite to win the tournament as it used to be. In fact, the Cats aren't even close. If you were to run down a list of teams picked to win this weekend's conference crown, UK would probably fall somewhere in the middle of the pack.
That's fine by them.
In their eyes, what has happened during the regular season and especially the last four games is a thing of the past. Tomorrow at 1 p.m., UK has a clean slate.
"It's a new season," junior Jodie Meeks said. "Everybody is 0-0. We didn't finish where we wanted to finish at the end of the regular season, but we've put that behind us and it's a fresh start for everybody."
Maybe so, but it's tough to discard some of the issues - namely turnovers, offensive rebounds and a lack of a third scoring option - that has plagued UK as problems solved.
UK Coach Billy Gillispie has said that this has been one of the hardest working teams in practice that he's ever coached, but he in the same breath he's said they have to work on everything to get better.
Junior guard Michael Porter agreed with Gillipsie, but he also pointed to the Cats' will to fight back.
"(Teams) have been hitting us in the mouth and we haven't been responding," Porter said. "That's what we need to do. If they hit us, we need to respond in the right way."
Patterson went in a similar direction. The sophomore forward said the Cats have to play tougher, with more intensity and more heart.
"This could be our last game if we don't come out with the right intensity," Patterson said. "It's all or nothing from here on out. If you can't bring the intensity for a situation like this, I don't know what else you can do then."
If they don't, there really isn't else anything UK can do other than cancel any flight plans for any NCAA Tournament destination. While the Cats might call it a new season, there isn't any escaping the simple fact that UK has to win games, starting with Ole Miss.
Otherwise, UK can forget about going to the Big Dance. Patterson doesn't need to be a member of the selection committee to tell you that.
"In order to win the SEC Tournament, we have to beat Ole Miss," Patterson said. We know that Ole Miss is the first step to the huge accomplishment. If we can take out Ole Miss, then we can start to worry about the next step."
Today's festivities; UK practice
Posted March 11 at 1:58 p.m. ET - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Just a real quick rundown of what's going on today in Tampa, Fla., before I get into what some of the Kentucky players had to say.
Each team today will go through a one-hour open practice followed by a 30 minutes of media availability. UK, which practiced at noon, just got finished with its practice and media responsibilities (I'll have more about that here in just a little bit) and is now headed to a separate arena for practice at 2 p.m.
I'll be here most of the day to listen in on most of the news conferences just to get a gauge on what everybody is saying. The consensus through the first portion of the news conferences is that this tournament is as wide open as ever.
Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said that while Louisiana State won the regular season, there has not been a dominant team in the league and that anybody would be hard pressed to pick a winner. Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury followed that just a minute ago by saying that it's hard enough just picking a winner in the first-round games.
Kennedy, Stansbury and UK Coach Billy Gillispie have all downplayed any thoughts that the league is down this year, instead choosing to side with the reasoning that the Southeastern Conference is more balanced than in years past. Not sure if I totally agree there, but I digress.
UK went through a pretty light practice during their one-hour session at the St. Pete Times Forum. The Cats started with a few light drills, scrimmaged for about a half an hour and then shot free throws.
Junior guard Jodie Meeks gave the crowd on hand the early highlight of the day at the end of practice. UK put about 20 seconds on the clock to practice its last-shot scenario, and after a miss on one end, Meeks came down on the other side of the floor and nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
I'll have more in just a little bit.
Huertas: 'I've got to play'
Posted March 11 at 1:35 p.m. ET - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy and a couple of players got done speaking with the media a little while ago and it appears David Huertas' status is still uncertain for tomorrow's first round game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament against Kentucky.
Huertas has been battling a foot injury for the last week and did not play for the Arkansas game on March 4. The junior guard played Saturday against Mississippi State, scoring 10 points in just 13 minutes of action.
Following the Rebels' open practice at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., Huertas said he felt fine and that he would try to give it a go tomorrow against Kentucky.
"Right now I still feel a little bit sore, little bit in pain," Huertas said. "But they're trying to do what they can. I' getting treatment every day so hopefully tomorrow I'm going to try to come out and play and try to help team. This is win or go home, so I've got to play."
Kennedy didn't paint quite the picture that Huertas did. Kennedy tended to lean more on the side that Huertas will be somewhere between questionable and probable for tomorrow's game at 1 p.m.
Kennedy said the decision will ultimately be up to Huertas as to whether or not he feels like his foot will allow him to play. Huertas did participate in Ole Miss' practice Wednesday afternoon.
"It's a situation where we have to trust him," said Kennedy, while also adding that they'll game plan as if he can't play. "The doctors have told us that we're not going to do anything to further the injury by playing. So then I go back to him and ask him' How do you feel? Can you play?' He'll tell me whether or not he can play. If he says he can go, we'll play him. If he says he can't, we'll have to make do."
Huertas' status will obviously loom large for tomorrow. Huertas, who is averaging 18.2 points per game, was the main cog behind Ole Miss' victory over UK earlier in the season. The junior from Humacao, Puerto Rico, scored 21 points in that game, 18 of them coming in the second half.
If nothing else, Huertas' depth will certainly be needed for a team that has been decimated by injuries.
"We typically play eight guys and he's one of our quote-unquote veterans," Kennedy said. "He's an all-league getting us 19 a game and he's vital to what we do. We've had to reinvent ourselves on a couple of different occasions based on the prior injuries and we based a lot of it on David and his ability. We run a lot of stuff to play to his strength. If he's out of the lineup, we have to adjust again and someone's going to have to step up, and we'll have to do it collectively in order to fill that void."
Safe and sound in Tampa
Posted on March 10 at 11:39 p.m. ET - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Not much to report other than we've landed in Tampa, Fla. We didn't end up leaving BlueGrass Airport until about 5 p.m. because of practice, and we landed in Tampa around 7 p.m.
It's been a rather quiet night around here. The team went out to dinner as soon as we arrived at the hotel then had a couple of hours to themselves before watching film in Coach Billy Gillispie's room.
I wish I had more for you all but there really isn't much else to say. The team will have an open practice for the media at noon tomorrow as well as some media availability after that. I should have some more for you all following that.
Back on the road again
Posted March 10 at 2:15 p.m. ET - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
I'm traveling with the men's basketball team again, this time for the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Tampa, Fla.
That means two things:
First off, it means there will be basketball coverage the entire time the Cats are in the tournament. If UK can fight through the SEC tourney and make it to the finals, we'll be there to tell you all about it. We'll have live blogs for every game, a couple of road reports and some coverage of the rest of the SEC Tournament.
That also means that everything else on the blog this week might be a little slow since I'll be away from the office. I'm going to try to sprinkle a few of the other sports on here from time to time, but I can't guarantee anything. We'll see how it plays out.
All the SEC coverage will be on one running post, which should be the lead story each day. Everything else will be organized as it usually is on the main blog page.
We're scheduled to depart BlueGrass Airport today at about 3:30 p.m. and arrive in Tampa at 5:15 p.m. (I know, quick isn't it?), although basketball practice, which is currently going on, could knock that back a bit.
If there is anything to report later on tonight, I'll have it. Otherwise I'll have something up later tomorrow following practice and media availability.