Big lift for Big Blue

Vanderbilt was fortunate Tuesday night; it caught the Kentucky Wildcats without star center Patrick Patterson. Tennessee doesn't expect to be so lucky Saturday in Lexington.

"We anticipate Patterson coming back and playing, which gives them that inside/outside threat," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said this week.

Apparently so. With Patterson sidelined by an ankle injury Tuesday night at Nashville, Kentucky was a shadow of the team that hammered Tennessee 90-72 on Jan. 13 in Knoxville. Josh Harrellson, Patterson's fill-in, didn't fill in very well, producing just 2 points and 0 rebounds as the Wildcats lost the backboards 37-26 and lost the game 77-64.

Moreover, Patterson's absence enabled Vanderbilt to exert additional defensive pressure on Jodie Meeks, who made just 6 of 21 field-goal tries. And, yes, that's the same Jodie Meeks who hit 15 of 22 shots en route to 54 points Jan. 13 at Tennessee.

As Pearl noted, having Patterson around to complement Meeks "makes both of them more effective. Without Patterson in there, they don't have as much of a post threat. It obviously takes more than one guy to cover Patterson and it takes a whole team to cover Meeks. That puts your defense at real risk."

Patterson, a 6-9, 235-pound sophomore, is tied for second place nationally in field-goal accuracy at 64.3 percent. He is the only player to rank among the SEC's top six in both scoring (sixth at 17.8 points per game) and rebounding (fourth at 9.1 per game).

As Tuesday night's loss at Vanderbilt illustrated, Kentucky is not the same team without Patterson. The Cats are far better when he's on the floor.

"They're a much tougher preparation because you've got to account for Patterson on the inside," Pearl said. "That means one (defender) in front and one behind him.

"It occupies one other help defender that could be involved in getting Jodie Meeks identified through screens and so on. They're twice as hard to cover."

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