In the worst of situations, tight-knit Cats are at their best

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Michael Porter was hurting, but he didn’t want to tell his coach. Or his teammates. He felt like if he did, he would be letting them down.

So he played. Eleven minutes to be exact.

It wasn’t until after the game that he told Billy Gillispie that he thought he knocked his shoulder out of place.

“I said, ‘Mike, why didn’t you tell me?’ ” Gillispie said. “And he said, ‘We were in foul trouble. I need to be in there for my team.’ ”

Porter didn’t quit. Porter didn’t back down. Porter didn’t give up.

But he isn’t alone. He’s just a product of the entire UK men’s basketball team.

This team hasn’t quit all season. Not when they were 6-7 overall. Not when they were 1-2 in the Southeastern Conference. Not when they lost freshman forward Patrick Patterson for the season.

And now, with last night’s 71-63 win over South Carolina, the Cats have put themselves in position to earn a miracle trip to the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s a great story because they won’t accept, no matter what happens, they won’t let it bother them,” Gillispie said. “No matter what happens, they will not let it bother them. And it’s fun.”

This team has no business being in the position it’s in.

Six of UK’s top seven players have missed at least one game this season. Combined, they have missed 37 games.

No sweat. If someone doesn’t play, the next guy steps up. Or in UK’s case, the whole team steps up.

UK was playing its second game without Patterson, unquestionably their best player, and possibly the best player in the SEC.

Gillispie said before the South Carolina game that when a basketball team loses its star player, it’s kind of like a backup quarterback having success in his first game, but in his second, when the other team has more time to prepare, the backup quarterback struggles.

That seems like common logic. But this is no common basketball team.

The Cats followed the all-heart, but heartbreaking, performance against then-No. 1 Tennessee with another amazing effort against the Gamecocks.

Joe Crawford was out of gas for much of the second half. Still, he played 19 minutes after halftime and scored a career-high 35 points. Ramel Bradley had four turnovers, but he scored 20 points.

The two scored all but four of UK’s points in the second half.

Crawford said after the game he knew he had to pick up the scoring slack when Patterson went down. He’s right. But he’s also wrong.

Every UK player that has spoken with the media since the injury has said that one person alone couldn’t pick up Patterson’s slack. Instead, they had to do it together.

As a team.

“The odds have been against our team,” Gillispie said. “We’ve had so many injuries, and when you learn on Friday that Patrick Patterson is going to be out, I think a lot of teams would have thrown in the towel. This team has gotten better.”

This team is remarkable.