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Cats hope to build off Vegas win




LEXINGTON

Patrick Patterson’s hope before this season was “no drama.”

So far, the Kentucky forward has gotten his wish. Barely.

Kentucky (4-2) returns home tonight (Wednesday) against unbeaten Lamar (5-0) coming off a surprising win in the Las Vegas Invitational, when the Wildcats knocked off Kansas State and West Virginia despite turning the ball over a combined 54 times and having freshman point guard DeAndre Liggins butt heads with coach Billy Gillispie.

Liggins refused a request from Gillispie to enter the Kansas State game, only to key the next night’s victory over the Mountaineers. It was a performance that worked Liggins back into his coach’s good graces, a second chance he received after a heart-to-heart with his teammates.

“We all just huddled up around DeAndre and said ‘We want you to play,'” Patterson said. “DeAndre said he wanted to play, told us he wanted to be a part of the team so we just tried to come together around him.”

For a second, Patterson’s mind flashed to the early-season clashes of a year ago when senior Joe Crawford found ways to get in Gillispie’s doghouse and freshman Alex Legion abruptly transferred to Illinois. Patterson knew the Wildcats couldn’t afford to get off to another shaky start.

“We really don’t want to have drama, we really don’t want to have problems on the team because that’s all just distractions from the main goal, which is pretty much winning,” Patterson said. “When we have things going on in the team, we just gather as a family, talk amongst each other and with the coaching staff and try to figure out a solution.”

For now the solution is to move on, hoping what happened in Vegas — at least when it comes to Liggins — stays in Vegas.

“He’s a freshman and freshmen make mistakes and people make mistakes,” guard Jodie Meeks said. “I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

The Lamar game is the start of a six-week stretch in which the Wildcats don’t leave the state. They play eight home games and two games at Freedom Hall in Louisville. Gillispie hopes a little home cooking can help his team overcome its struggles holding on to the ball.

Kentucky is averaging a whopping 23 turnovers a game and has looked so scattered offensively at times that Gillispie admits his players look like they don’t know where they’re going.

In a way, that makes Kentucky’s wins in Las Vegas more remarkable. The Wildcats averaged a turnover every 90 seconds and still survived. For a team still looking for an identity, it’s a start.

“I’m not a prognosticator, I’m not a promise maker, but I think it gave us a great deal of confidence,” Gillispie said. “We threw the ball all over the gym but were able to compete hard enough to get two wins. I don’t think we lack confidence, but I think it solidified their confidence a little bit.”

The Wildcats will need that confidence against the Cardinals. Lamar has rolled to five straight wins by harassing opponents into throwing the ball away. The Cardinals are forcing nearly 19 turnovers a game and are led by speedy guards Kenny Dawkins and Brandon McThay. They are averaging a combined 33.6 points and 2.4 steals per game.

“They’ll create some havoc, but I’m more concerned about how we execute and handle our assignments,” Gillispie said.

Expect those assignments to include trying to find a rhythm offensively. For now that means going through Meeks, who has become Kentucky’s go-to player when things break down. Meeks is averaging 25.5 points per game and was named Most Valuable Player in Las Vegas, where he scored 37 points in the win over Kansas State and followed it up with 17 against West Virginia.

“I kind of got in the zone I guess,” Meeks said. “I know against K-State I hit five or six shots in a row, and (guard) Michael Porter just did a great job of finding me.”

If only Meeks could do a better job of finding his teammates. His 31 turnovers lead the team, though Gillispie said most of Meeks’ miscues aren’t due to a lack of effort.

“His turnovers are usually not turnovers of omission, they’re turnovers of commission because he’s doing something all the time,” Gillispie said. “I wish he would maybe sometimes pick his spots better as far as attacking defenses, … but I’m not griping at all about the way he’s playing.”


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