- Friday, November 28 2008 -
Findlay Toyota Las Vegas Invitational (at Las Vegas, NV)
Kentucky - 74 (Head Coach: Billy Gillispie) - [Unranked]
Kansas State - 72 (Head Coach: Frank Martin) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 37, Kansas State 23
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Longwood 91 - 57|||||West Virginia 54 - 43|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Meeks' 37 helps UK hold off Kansas State
LAS VEGAS - Las Vegas' famed Strip is known as having the most action in the desert. For one night the wildness moved off site to the lesser-known Orleans.
Kentucky avoided turning into a pumpkin after midnight, surviving a spirited late night affair with Kansas State 74-72 in the Las Vegas Invitational. The game - which tipped at 12:05 a.m. eastern time - left fans of both sets of Wildcats standing and screaming in the waning moments of the Vegas night.
Kansas State unleashed a physical man-to-man press midway through the second half and immediately took advantage of UK's inability to handle the basketball. A 17-point lead quickly became three under an avalanche of UK turnovers, with several just being handed to K-State. All told UK gave the ball away 31 times but still managed to stave off the rally.
"Some people look at the glass half empty and half full but if you're an optimist you look at that as a heck of a hard fought win," UK coach Billy Gillispie said. "They really fought hard. They got down early and they really, really fought hard and that's why they had a chance to win. They figured out a way to win and they had enough guts and courage to win. It was a matter of being tough and making just enough plays and just enough stops."
The Wildcats from Manhattan whittled the deficit to 72-69 and had a chance to tie in the final 10 seconds but Ramon Harris stripped Dominique Sutton as he drove to the basket. Jodie Meeks picked up the loose ball, was fouled and hit two free throws to seal the victory.
The escape avoided what was nearly another unsightly early season loss for the Cats despite 37 points from Meeks.
The Cats got off to another miserable start, turning the basketball over on each of their first three possessions and five of the first eight. With Kansas State aggressively pressuring the ball UK looked timid until a little over six minutes into the game when Ramon Harris dunked off a perfectly executed backdoor cut.
The play seemed to ignite the Cats and a lively pro-UK crowd. Meeks, who had two points to that point, buried a three from the top of the key and then jumped the passing lane and got a runout lay-in to tie the score at 16.
Meeks was just getting started.
The junior scored 17 consecutive points for UK during a stretch that turned a 16-11 deficit into a 28-19 lead. During the unconscious streak Meeks twice smoothly drilled NBA-length triples from the top of the key, twice he stole a pass and turned it into a breakaway and twice he hit mid-range jumpers. The only thing that stopped him in the 24-point half was a prayer at the shot clock buzzer in the final 12 seconds.
"We didn't have anything else," Gillispie said. "He was fantastic. He's been really good but that first half performance was something else. That's not good for the long haul but it was good enough for tonight.
"The other guys aren't presenting themselves, not playing tough enough, not finishing plays and you don't need one guy scoring 37 points if you're only scoring 74. We were very lucky to win."
If only the Cats had been able to take care of the basketball their halftime advantage could have been even more formidable. UK continued their sloppy ball handling by giving the ball away 17 times - the same number of shots they took - in the half.
Kansas State came out and pushed UK around the first few possessions of the second half, closing the deficit to 45-37 before UK's defense took over and helped push the lead out to 54-37 before K-State called a timeout with 12:30 remaining to stop the bleeding.
The stoppage worked wonders. Back-to-back steals off the press resulted in three-pointers from the right wing by Jacob Pullen as the lead was cut in half. When Michael Porter threw consecutive entry passes right to Darren Kent, Pullen buried another three and Dominique Sutton tipped home a miss on the break to pull K-State within 60-57 with 6:43 remaining.
UK never relinquished the lead but couldn't put the vise on K-State either thanks to 10-of-16 free throw shooting over the final six minutes. The Cats managed only two field goals over that time but shot 68.8 percent for the game, including an alley-oop from Porter to Patrick Patterson with 31.6 seconds remaining.
NO THANK YOU
The Cats' victory wasn't without drama off the court. Freshman point guard DeAndre Liggins played just two minutes and did not see the court in the final 34 minutes of the game.
Several reporters witnessed Liggins appear to refuse to enter the game during a timeout with 12:30 remaining in the game. Gillispie signaled for the freshman to check in for Michael Porter before turning away and instead inserting Kevin Galloway in for Porter. Assistant coaches then spoke with Liggins and instructed teammates to leave him alone.
When asked about the situation after the game Gillispie offered a frank assessment.
"He just said he didn't want to go in," Gillispie said. "He just said he didn't want to. We made due without him. I don't know. I was really surprised by that but it's a freshman and he's a competitor and he wants to play all the time. Sometimes you make mistakes like that and hopefully it won't be repeated."
Jodie Meeks (#23) flies in for a slam