Big men may decide UK’s battle with Tide

Just three days after facing Auburn, a team with little interior presence, freshman forward Patrick Patterson has a slightly tougher task at hand tomorrow — Richard Hendrix.

Hendrix, a junior forward, and the Alabama Crimson Tide come to Rupp Arena tomorrow, attempting to put an end to UK’s four-game win streak.

Hendrix leads the Tide with 19 points per game — third in the Southeastern Conference — and is the only player in the conference averaging double-digit rebounds.

At 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, Hendrix is a physical inside presence who has already made his mark against the Cats. Last year in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Hendrix poured in 21 points against the Cats in an Alabama victory. But last season Hendrix had fellow big man Jermareo Davidson inside to help. He’s played this season without his running mate who graduated.

“I think it’s put a little more pressure on him,” Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. “He knows he’s got to do a better job.”

Hendrix’s second team All-SEC selection performance as a sophomore last season set the stage for an even better 2007-08 campaign.

His scoring and rebounding numbers have both improved, and after making 60 percent of his field goal attempts as a sophomore, the junior has hit 62.6 percent of his shots this season.

Still, Gottfried is asking more of his big man inside.

“He has played very, very well,” Gottfried said. “I’m very proud of Richard. And I still think he can do more. Seventeen rebounds (against LSU) is a lot, but he’s just so capable of doing some great things and we’re just going to keep working with him. But he’s done a good job.”

Just a freshman, Patterson has already developed into an offensive force in the paint for UK. The Huntington, W.V., native has scored at least 15 points in five of six SEC games — including three 20-point games — and has at least eight rebounds in four of those games.

Auburn coach Jeff Lebo spent much of the week leading up to his matchup with UK fretting about Patterson, and his worries proved to be warranted. Patterson hit eight of 10 shots against the Tigers, scoring 19 points.

Though Gottfried isn’t faced with the problem of finding someone to guard Patterson, he still lauded the freshman during his weekly teleconference.

“He’s obviously very skilled,” Gottfried said. “I like how hard he plays. He’s done a good job.”

Unlike UK, which is streaking through the early part of the SEC schedule, the Tide has limped to a 2-6 start to conference play, including a 73-66 loss to Mississippi State Wednesday night.

The Cats have finished games strong during their 5-2 start in the conference, but that is one area where Alabama needs to improve, Gottfried said.

“It’s discouraging but it’s encouraging,” Gottfried said. “It’s both, knowing that you can get there if you just get a little bit better.”

Injury Report

During the SEC teleconference Thursday, head coach Billy Gillispie did not give an official word on the status of guards Ramel Bradley or Jodie Meeks for tomorrow’s game.

Bradley sat out the win at Auburn while suffering from a viral infection and the aftermath of his concussion at Georgia last Saturday.

Asked if the senior would be available tomorrow, Gillispie wasn’t sure.

“I hope so,” Gillispie said. “But I don’t know.”

Meeks was listed as “doubtful” for the Auburn game, and Gillispie did not say what the sophomore’s status was for tomorrow.