Meeks burns UT for 54 points

Whatever Tennessee's defensive strategy was on Kentucky's Jodie Meeks Tuesday night, it didn't work.

Meeks scored a school-record 54 points (Dan Issel had 53 vs. Ole Miss in 1970) as the Wildcats trounced the Vols 90-72 before a stunned crowd of 20,000-plus at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The 6-4 junior guard more than doubled his SEC-leading 24.2-point scoring average by sinking 15 of 22 shots, including 10 of 15 from beyond the 3-point arc. He also drained 14 of 14 free throws.

"I ain't seen nobody shoot like that in college before," Vol junior Wayne Chism said on the post-game show.

"That was as good a performance as I've seen since I've been a head coach," UT coach Bruce Pearl said.

Tennessee's defensive gameplan for Meeks essentially was to try everything.

"Our plan was to try and keep the ball out of his hands, believe it or not," Pearl said. "Then, when he got the ball, to ball-screen trap him, believe it or not.... We tried to switch out on him. We tried a lot of different guys on him."

Nothing worked. Even fatigue couldn't stop Meeks, who played 39 minutes and seemed as fresh at the game's finish as he was at its start.

"Meeks was an unbelievably conditioned athlete," Pearl said.

He was an unbelievably hot-shooting athlete, too.

After hitting 8 of 11 shots in helping UK to a 41-37 halftime lead, the Big Blue bomber nailed his first four shots of the second half. So, with 16:37 to play, Meeks was 12 of 15 from the floor and the Big Blue was up 53-41. A pair of Meeks free throws extended the lead to 14 points (58-44) with 13:54 to go.

Kentucky's lead swelled to 16 points (66-50) before the Vols mounted a frantic comeback. Tyler Smith scored seven points in a 14-5 spurt that pulled Tennessee within 7 at 71-64 with 6:52

The Vols got the ball back with a chance to whittle the lead further but Chism missed a 3-pointer, then Meeks sealed the deal by single-handedly outscoring Tennessee 9-0. He opened the spurt with two 3s. Then, fouled on a 3-point try, he drained all three free throws pushing his point total to 52 and the lead to 80-64 with 4:11 left.

"It was 71-64 with 6:50 to go, and I thought we had made a nice rally," Pearl noted. "Then nine straight points by Jodie Meeks ... He was amazing. It was unbelievable to have one guy get 54 and not another guy (for Kentucky) in double digits."

The loss snapped Tennessee's 16-game SEC home winning streak. It was the Vols' third setback in their last four games, dropping them to 10-5 overall and 1-1 in conference play.

Kentucky, now 13-4 overall and 2-0 in SEC play, has won 13 of 15 after dropping its first two games of 2008-09.

Tyler Smith scored 19 points to pace the Vols. Chism added 18 points and 9 rebounds. He also did an outstanding defensive job on Kentucky's Patrick Patterson, limiting the 6-9 235-pounder to nine points. Bobby Maze chipped in 11 points for Tennessee.

The Vols will try to bounce back Saturday, hosting South Carolina at 6 p.m.

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