Men's Basketball

Dec. 27, 2008

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Not this year. Not during this torrid streak.

Nearly a year ago, the UK basketball team returned from Christmas Break only to be shocked by little-known San Diego en route to a 5-6 record to start the season. The Wildcats made sure history wasn’t going to repeat itself Saturday afternoon.

Fresh off a brief layoff, the Wildcats returned to Rupp Arena on Saturday and picked up their winning streak right where they left off. UK (10-3) got 27 points and 14 rebounds from sophomore Patrick Patterson and another 18 points from junior Jodie Meeks to defeat the Florida Atlantic Owls 76-69 on Saturday. The win extended the Wildcats’ winning streak to five and it was their 10th win in their last 11 games.

Only this one came a little tougher than the previous few.

“That kind of game is exactly what we needed,” UK Coach Billy Gillispie said. “Our past couple of games we have got out to a big lead and got a little comfortable. We were not in stressful situation during our last couple of games. Today we got ourselves in a little stressful situation and it could not have gone better if you ask me.”

Try nerve-wracking.

Florida Atlantic’s Paul Graham III put the Wildcats in their fair share of stressful situations throughout the afternoon. Graham, a senior guard, scored a career-high 31 points, including 20 in the first half.

“It really makes you grow as a coach, because when (Graham) has a night like tonight, you know how good he can be,” Florida Atlantic Coach Mike Jarvis said.

Gillispie threw a bevy of defenders at Graham to try to slow him down in the first half, but Gillispie said nobody did a better job of defending than junior Michael Porter, who finished with a game-high five assists.

“I think Michael is playing is about as well as he possibly can,” Gillispie said. “I think he’s playing great.”

UK came out swinging from the opening tip, but for the first time in four games, so did its opponent. Meeks and Patterson scored UK’s first 17 points, but the Owls, especially Graham, kept the game close. Sixteen lead changes and six first-half ties locked the game at 37 all heading into halftime, putting the Owls (4-9, 0-2 Sun Belt) in prime position for another holiday shocker in the Bluegrass.

Florida Atlantic stormed out to a 51-46 lead in the second half thanks to a couple of early treys, but UK slammed the door shut with a slew of emphatic dunks. All they needed was a little push from the Rupp Arena crowd.

Trailing 51-46 with 14:36 left in the game, a fan from the eRUPPtion Zone yelled at Patterson to take over the game. Patterson and fellow forward Perry Stevenson must have heard.

The two combined for 26 second-half points and were the engine behind UK’s 10-0 run midway through the second half.

The run started with just over 14 minutes to go in the game. First it was an offensive board and put-back from Patterson. Then freshman DeAndre Liggins and Stevenson connected on a thunderous alley-oop. After Patterson rejected a dunk attempt on the other end, Stevenson followed with another slam, bringing the 24,018 in attendance, the second largest crowd of the season, to its feet.

UK continued to look inside and it paid off. Before it was all said and done, the Wildcats turned a 51-46 deficit into a 56-46 lead in a matter of two minutes.

Patterson gave Stevenson a lot of the credit for the second-half run. Stevenson, who was barely a blip on Owls’ radar after a slow first half, scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds after halftime.

“In the second half, we were able to talk to him in the back and he got his head on straight,” Patterson said. “He was able to come out and perform in the second half. He was putting in shots around the basket, posting hard, finishing the plays, running in transition and just rebounding.”

But Patterson’s offense might have been the real cog to UK’s second-half run. His 27-point, 14-rebound performance was more than good enough for his Southeastern Conference-leading eighth double-double of the year.

“He’s the kind of kid every coach wants to recruit because he plays hard all the time,” Jarvis said. “It doesn’t make a difference who he’s playing against. He’s a warrior.”

The Owls cut the deficit to two with 2:52 on the clock, but the Wildcats fought off the late rally to keep their winning streak alive. Lost in the shuffle was UK’s best game in the turnover department. The Wildcats’ committed a season-low seven turnovers.

“We’re getting better as we get more experienced,” Gillispie said.

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