Meeks makes mark

As prophecies go, "The Meeks shall inherit the scoring load" must have had even devout Kentucky fans scoffing. But now they're believers.

With Joe Crawford (17.9 points per game) and Ramel Bradley (15.9) out of eligibility, the Big Blue basketball team has found an unlikely hero for 2008-09. That would be Jodie Meeks, whose talents will be on display tonight at 9 against Tennessee in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Essentially, Meeks has made a transformation of almost Biblical proportions ... kind of like that water-into-wine deal.

The 6-4, 208-pound junior from Norcross, Ga., shot a paltry 30.7 percent from the field and averaged a mundane 8.8 points per game as a sophomore in 2007-08. What has happened to him since then, however, is downright mind-boggling.

Meeks hit 13 of 27 field-goal tries and scored 39 points in UK's 2008-09 opener against VMI. He hit 11 of 17 shots en route to 37 points in Game 5 vs. Kansas State. Then he outdid himself by hitting 14 of 21 shots (including 9 of 14 from 3-point range) en route to 46 points in Game 11 vs. Appalachian State.

"He's really a dynamite player," Tennessee head man Bruce Pearl said this week.

That's an apt description because Meeks certainly is explosive. Entering tonight's action he is averaging 24.2 points per game, tops in the Southeastern Conference and fifth-best nationally. He has made 57 shots from 3-point range, 14 more than anyone else in the SEC. He also leads the league in 3-point accuracy (41.9 percent), free-throw accuracy (90.2 percent) and minutes played (33.1 per game). He is 12th in steals (1.56 per game) and 14th in overall field-goal percentage (46.1).

Based on all of the above, Meeks is a prime candidate to join the list of opposing guards who have torched Tennessee in recent weeks. Temple's Dionte Christmas burned the Vols for 35 points on Dec. 13. Marquette's Wesley Matthews riddled UT for 30 points three days later and Belmont's Alex Renfroe chalked up 30 more on Dec. 20.

Naturally, Pearl is concerned about these defensive struggles.

"In the four losses teams shot in the low- to mid-50s (percentage-wise), and that's where we lost games – Kansas, Temple and Gonzaga twice," he said. "The rest of the games we played pretty good defense."

The head man readily conceded that his players appeared "dazed and confused" on defense earlier this year. Although they still suffer occasional lapses, he said he is encouraged that they now at least have "recognition of what we're not doing and where we're not doing it."

Although both Kentucky (12-4 overall) and Tennessee (10-4 overall) are 1-0 in SEC play, tonight's game is nearly a must-win situation for the Vols.

"Obviously, Kentucky is going to be a contender to win the SEC," Pearl said. "When you play at home against one of the contenders, if we're a contender ourselves, we really need to hold serve at home. Otherwise, you have to make something up down the road."

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