Patterson-less Kentucky avoided what looked like a giant trap game today in Fayetteville, with Jodie Meeks scoring over half the points in a relatively easy win over a Fortson-less Arkansas Razorback team in front of a big crowd in Bud Walton Arena.
It was a tough game for the Razorbacks, and although they fought gamely, they were clearly uncomfortable without their primary ball handler. It wasn't so much his ball handling that the Razorbacks missed, as Fortson's ability to get into the lane and force defensive rotation. Nonetheless, the Hawgs played hard, determined basketball, but ultimately were shredded by the Meeks buzz saw.
What can I say about Jodie Meeks? 71% from the field, especially where Meeks was shooting from, is just phenomenal. But UK wasn't a one man team, as some of the supporting cast worked very hard to help out in Patterson's absence. I was very impressed with Kentucky's tenaciousness on defense and their overall decent execution on offense. Of course, when you have Jodie Meeks making shots from all over the place, it can make a team look a lot better than it is. Still, the fact is that Meeks managed a very high percentage of clean looks, a testament to the improved screen execution of Kentucky.
Here are my observations on this game:
- Darius Miller is really improving, and you can see his confidence rise game to game. He still isn't shooting great, but as his confidence increases, he will. But he does so many of the little things -- six rebounds, three steals and only one turnover to go with his eight points.
- Josh Harrellson had a tough time today. Sometimes, Harrelson is able to do a lot of damage, and other times, he just looks in the wrong league. Today was the latter, and despite some nice post ups inside, was unable to scratch or get more than one rebound. That is just poor for a 6'10" guy.
- MIchael Porter continues to be a mixed bag. He has got to be praised for his excellent shooting, but his turnovers just kill me -- they are always so untimely and difficult to excuse. His passing today was simply horrid, but it's hard to be too tough on a guy playing out of position. But Porter was deadly from long range today, and although we really didn't need it, his increasing confidence in his shooting is a real positive.
- Kevin Galloway, the hero of Tuesday, saw just three minutes. He was productive in that time, pulling down a big OR and sticking it back for a score. Why so little time? Gillispie Effect, I suppose.
- DeAndre Liggins continues to improve. He really didn't do anything bad today except a couple of over-penetrations and one really stupid pass, but he managed 3 assist to only 1 turnover. That will work.
- Perry Stevenson continues his enigmatic play, following up an impressive performance against the Gators with an almost invisible one against the Hawgs. He did manage five blocks, but only five boards makes his performance another head-scratcher.
- Jodie, Jodie, Jodie. What a game. They guy was everywhere, all the time, making shots, playing defense (3 steals), getting rebounds (7). The only criticism I can really make is that he continues to gamble too much on defense.
- Ramon Harris had a really good game, even though he made some terrible attempts at shots and managed only 2-5 from the field. But he had nine rebounds (four offensive) to go along with five assists and only two turnovers. Nice to see him playing better.
- A.J. Stewart hit a three, and it looked great. He also had a block and three rebounds, and didn't turn the ball over one time.
- UK shot only 60% from the free throw line, the worst performance I can remember this season.
- 16 turnovers is too many, but it's better than twenty.
- UK won the points off turnovers battle huge, 23-13. 52% FG shooting and 50% 3-point shooting is tough to beat.
All in all, a pretty darn good job by the Wildcats. I am very encouraged by the improvement we are beginning to see in our younger players, and the increasing confidence of role players to take open shots when they are available. Arkansas was a bit undermanned today, and it showed, but so was UK. Kentucky had a built-in excuse to get caught in this trap, and completely rejected the whole notion. The 'Cats were intense, focused, and played pretty well.
So celebrate. I am having a nice tot of Bulleit on ice. I recommend the same for you.