Vols vs. Meeks, part 2

One can scarcely imagine how sick Tennessee's players are of hearing/reading how Kentucky's Jodie Meeks hung 54 points on them Jan. 13 on their home floor. No doubt they are obsessed with stopping Meeks in Saturday's rematch at Lexington.

Everybody acknowledges this, it seems, except the coaches involved. UK's Billy Gillispie and UT's Bruce Pearl insist that Meeks is just one small part in a very big puzzle.

When asked on Thursday's SEC coaches teleconference if he expects the Vols to be extra motivated because of the way Meeks riddled them last time, Gillispie resorted to classic coach-speak.

"Their No. 1 goal will be the same as it was last time, and that's to win the game," he said. "Definitely, they're going to have to pay a great deal of attention to Jodie. He's played very well and he's definitely garnered that respect."

Pearl was only a little more candid when asked about the added motivation to contain Meeks in Saturday's rematch.

"I think we were motivated to guard him the first time," the Vol coach said. "He scored on seven different guys, so we'll probably all be motivated to do a better job. But, more importantly, we're motivated because we're tied for first place with the team we're playing on Saturday, with SEC championship implications on the line. That's probably our greatest motivation."

So we're to believe that the fact Meeks humiliated UT in front of its home fans and a national TV audience one month ago means nothing. What's next ... telling us what great perimeter defense the Vols play?


"They have a lot of capable guys that can really lock onto him," Gillispie said. "And the coach does a great job of providing a game plan to take away Jodie from you. I think their defense is fantastic, and I look for a very difficult night – not only for Jodie but for all of our team."

The UK coach clearly is reluctant to admit that he is blessed with the ultimate weapon in college basketball but he did concede that Meeks is "a hard guy to guard."

Recovering quickly, however, Gillispie suggested that Meeks is only as effective as his supporting cast.

"It depends on how much help we give him," the Big Blue boss said. "If we don't give him any more help than we did the other night (in a loss at Vanderbilt), then it's going to be a tough night for Jodie, as well."

Not necessarily. Meeks got precious little help from his teammates Jan. 13 in Knoxville. He was UK's only double-figure scorer. He made precisely half of UK's 30 baskets. He drained 10 of UK's dozen 3-pointers. He sank 14 of UK's 18 free throws. He scored 54 points, 18 more than the rest of the Cats combined.

Given how he dissected the Vol defense last time, Meeks has got to be drooling about the prospect of facing The Big Orange again.

"We've struggled guarding guards on the perimeter," Pearl conceded, "and he's probably the toughest perimeter player in the country to cover."

That's a difficult point to dispute. Meeks has toyed with several foes this year, not just Tennessee. He scored 39 points in UK's opener against VMI, hit for 37 against Kansas State, posted 46 vs. Appalachian State and registered 45 last week at Arkansas.

"We fouled him too much. He actually made more baskets against Arkansas (17, compared to 15) but he went to the foul line 14 times against us," Pearl noted. "He got a few things in transition (vs. UT last time). You've got to know where he is on the floor at all times ... pay him even more attention.

Meeks' 54-point explosion at Tennessee made him a marked man. In the nine games since then he has scored more than 27 points only twice – getting 31 vs. Auburn and 45 vs. Arkansas. He was held to 15 in a loss at Mississippi State.

"He had some big games before (torching Tennessee) but that probably was his first breakout game," Pearl said. "From that point forward, I think he began to get different kinds of coverages because people saw what he was capable of."

No one knows what Jodie Meeks is capable of better than the Tennessee Vols. That's why they will be obsessed with stopping him Saturday afternoon in Lexington ... even if neither head coach will admit it.

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