Jodie Meeks sets Kentucky record with 54 points
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Jodie Meeks had more than 150 text messages and 50 voice messages awaiting him after he had the highest-scoring game in the illustrious history of Kentucky basketball.
It was too late to return the many congratulatory notes and calls after Tuesday night's 54-point performance at Tennessee. Answering the message from former Kentucky star Dan Issel was Meeks' top priority Wednesday morning.
It was Issel's 39-year-old record of 53 points Meeks broke in the 90-72 victory against the No. 24 Volunteers.
Meeks humbly told Issel he didn't mean to break the record or even realize he was doing so. His only intention, he said, reiterating what he said after the game, was to finally knock off the rival Volunteers in Knoxville.
"It's an honor to me," Meeks said Wednesday. "I don't see myself as being legendary or anything like that."
He watched the game from a Wyoming hotel room where he was on a business trip. At halftime, he told his wife this could be the night his record fell. While he says there is some sadness it no longer belongs to him, mostly he is happy for Meeks.
"I told him, 'The farther down the road you get and you realize what great players played at UK, 'to be on top of that list is a heck of an accomplishment," Issel said in a phone interview.
Among the others impressed with the feat was Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, who recruited Meeks when he was in charge of the Wildcats.
"When you think about all the great players that have gone through Kentucky, that's just a remarkable feat," Smith said. "And to do it at Tennessee -- oh, wow! That's the best gift to the Bluegrass I think in years."
Playing for the winningest program in college basketball history makes most Kentucky players celebrities around campus. Meeks' popularity had skyrocketed Wednesday -- the first day of classes since the holiday recess. Meeks acknowledged it has been an adjustment.
"It's a good problem to have," he said. "If I don't get into the spotlight, I'm fine with that. If I do, I'm fine with that."
The junior from Norcross, Ga., has had quite a few big games this season. There was his previous career high of 46 points against Appalachian State, 39 against Virginia Military Institute, 37 against Kansas State and 32 against Tennessee State.
But what he did Tuesday tops them all -- by far.
"He had 46 against Appalachian State and they're a nice team, but not nearly like a Tennessee on their home court," Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie said.
Kentucky (13-4, 2-0 SEC) was picked to finish third in the East Division behind Tennessee and Florida.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said he worked with his players for several days trying to come up with a game plan to keep the ball out of Meeks' hand.
To say it didn't work is an understatement. Meeks went 10-for-15 from 3-point range (he also set a school record for 3s in a game), made all 14 of his free throws, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out four assists. He scored 26 points by halftime.
Kentucky stumbled into foul trouble with 9:34 left, and Tennessee (10-5, 1-1) sank 11 straight from the free throw line to cut the Wildcats' lead to 71-64 with 6:52 left. But Meeks scored nine straight points to put the game away.
"We tried to deny Jodie Meeks the basketball but to show how pitiful we were, Meeks did anything he wanted to do," Pearl said. "We tried to guard him as a team, but we were not able to get anything done."
What made Meeks so much more difficult for the Vols to guard than star teammate Patrick Patterson, the inside part of Kentucky's dual threat, was his ability to both shoot from the perimeter and drive inside. Patterson had nine points and 12 rebounds.
Meeks' heaped much of the credit on his teammate.
"He's probably the main reason we're getting such good looks at the basket," Meeks said. 'He's such a threat inside. Without him, I wouldn't be scoring as many points as I did."
Kentucky's challenge now is to keep from getting shut down if Meeks has a bad night shooting or a team with a stronger defense than Tennessee's finds a way to contain him.
Of course, there is always Patterson. At one point, Patterson faked a handoff to Meeks, who drew two Tennessee defenders, leaving Patterson open for an easy, uncontested slam dunk.
"Coach designed that play," Patterson said. "He felt both defenders would come out on Jodie since he had the hot hand."
For his part, Gillispie doesn't seem too worried about relying on Meeks and Patterson.
"Really disappointed we're still looking to develop that third scorer," he said, laughing. "That's the theme, right?"
AP Sports Writers Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tenn., and Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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