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Kentucky completes Vols sweep UofL’s Pitino keeps eye on prize

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By Bob Watkins

Kentucky’s win against Tennessee was a notch down from gorgeous, but was pretty enough to earn the delight of Big Blue Nation. A 13-0 run from the get-go and an exclamation mark at the end.

A Vols Sweep is UK’s season highlight so far.

The Wildcats’ play was poised, patient and selfless (23 assists) and postgame buzz “... if only UK had a third scorer,” was made redundant (again) when the Committee had 20 points, 10 rebounds and and seven assists.

The timing of daggers from Michael Porter, Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris was perfect as the Vols worried about the chiseled No. 23 who is less interested in media ga-ga and Sports Center moment, than winning. Jodie Meeks.

UK’s iron man has become target for cheap shots from screen-setters, but did decoy duty efficiently and still chipped in 14 points, three assists as many steals.

Sweetest surprise for Wildcat fans: No longer a rookie, Darius Miller was superb - 17 points, six assists and three rebounds.

Short of gorgeous? Defensive rebounding was weak. Tennessee was brutally efficient sealing Patterson off and pushing Perry Stevenson to Nicholasville.

So, Kentucky’s script for its run to tournament time is clear. This week - win at South Carolina and/or beat LSU and Georgia to set High Noon in Gainesville Mar. 7.

LOUISVILLE EYES PRIZE

Polls. Four teams ranked ahead of Louisville last week lost causing a buzz among Cardinal fans. But Rick Pitino has seen this trap before. Da Coach has kept his team’s eye on the prize. What prize?

Big Dance No. 2 seed. Strategy? Finish in a flurry against Marquette, at West Virginia and rev for Big East tourney. 

One-at-a-time Pitino knows nothing else matters. Will his players see the same prize?

BILLY CLYDE HOT SEAT?

As Kentucky lost four of six games before beating Tennessee, fans were lectured to not give up on Billy Clyde Gillispie last week by.

Say what? Less than two seasons into a 5-year Memorandum of Understandingand Gillispie needs a love note from fans?  

Did Mitch Barnhart issue a vote of confidence we missed?

Truth is, as much as Cawood and Keightley are part of UK’s basketball furniture, fans do what they’ve done for more than half a century. Cheer, boo, cheer, complain, second guess, gossip, speculate and, a knot of short-fuse hard liners clamor for coaching change.

History tells us so.

√ Mid-1960s - Adolph Rupp teams won everything. Yet, by 1965 fans complained “... the old man has lost it. Put him out to pasture.”  Then came Rupp’s Runts.

√ Mid-1970s - Joe B. Hall “... nice guy from Cynthiana, Joe Beesman,” they said. “But he isn’t Adolph and he won’t let Jay ‘White Lightning’ Shidler shoot outside. Get rid of him.”

√ Mid-80s - Eddie Sutton was (Hoosiers) Norman Dale without the pouch in hand. He wanted seven passes before a shot. In the land of Fast Break, this was sacrilege and hateful.

√ The 90s. Rick Pitino had critics too. In part, because Richie Farmer didn’t play enough. In the end a noisy majority would never forgive him for giving them a Renaissance then leaving, then coming back to Louisville.

√ New Millennium - Dr. Orlando Smith might as well have succeeded Rupp. He had no chance. His national title team was credited to Pitino, his seven 20-win seasons, two 30-win seasons and a fistful of SEC crowns were not enough either for louder critics who dubbed him 10-loss Tubby.

Brings us back to Gillispie. Consider facts in context of glass half full or half empty.

HALF FULL. Next season. If Patterson and Meeks return, along with Perry Stevenson, Harris, Porter and Darius Miller, they will be joined by Gillispie’s first full complement of recruits including Daniel Orton and Jon Hood.

HALF EMPTY. Fans’ puzzlement with Gillispie’s stingy playing time rules, is legitimate. Grumbling that his teams have slipped to no-show in national ranking and RPI respect has merit too Add four home-court losses this season, no upset wins, no signature win and 0-fer-2 each against Louisville, North Carolina and the Mississippi schools. And South Carolina may be added to the list.

Embarrassments: An SEC Tourney loss to Georgia; losses to Gardner Webb and VMI at home. And, UK faces a second double-digit loss season, fourth since 2006.

Gillispie needs patience from fans? Not even close. But weighed together, these factors give perfect pitch to Memorandum of Understanding.

Understanding that UK fans expect wins and more and skip the patience.

JUST WONDERING DEPT.

• Anybody surprised Jodie Meeks didn’t reach his 26-point average against Tennessee. We, and Bruce Pearl, knew Meeks could get off as few as 14 shots and still succeed despite tiresome hype about his 54 in Knoxville six weeks ago.

• Kevin Galloway. Kentucky fans in increasing numbers have contracted Richie Farmer Fever, wondering why Galloway hasn’t played more? Last week he expressed puzzlement about fans’ interest. (wink)

Here’s a clue - fans recognize Galloway brings pizzazz and exquisite passing to the lineup that can offset DeAndre Liggins’ train wrecks.

READERS (RIGHT) WRITE

Following Kentucky-Tennessee game last Saturday ...

Bill in Lexington: “Wonder if Scotty Hopson has any second thoughts on going to Tennessee now that he is 0-2 (against UK) after one year?

COMMENT: More relevant question: Do UK fans have second thoughts about Hopson not wearing blue? I suggest Hopson chose the right school. And, there is little doubt he can become an outstanding college player.

PARTING SHOT

Cheers to Jeannine Edwards. The ESPN reporter refused to play the Lexington Herald-Leader’s gossipy game, make her a story. Edwards working the UK-Vandy game would rekindle interest in another Edwards-Billy Clyde Gillispie shotgun interview, the newspaper said.

Instead, Edwards was professional, asked two excellent questions of Vandy’s Kevin Stallings who answered in kind.

End of (no) story.

And so it goes.

You can reach bob Watkins at Sprtsinky@aol.com