Injury bug continues to bite Cats’ roster

In a season full of ups and downs, there has been one constant for the men’s basketball team this year: injuries.

The injury bug has affected nearly half of the Cats’ roster this season, and that was no different when UK took the court against South Carolina on Saturday without senior guard Joe Crawford.

Crawford was slated to play up until an hour before the game, when team doctors decided his plantar fasciitis, a painful foot injury, would not allow him to play, head coach Billy Gillispie said after the game Saturday. In Crawford’s absence, sophomore guard Jodie Meeks got his first Southeastern Conference start of the season, scoring 13 points in a season-high 38 minutes of play.

Preseason injuries to sophomore guard Derrick Jasper and junior center Jared Carter were only the first of many more injuries UK has been plagued by this year. In all, six UK players have missed playing time due to injury throughout the season, which includes freshman forward Patrick Patterson and sophomore guard Michael Porter.

Jasper and Meeks have been the most affected by the injury bug as both players continue to shake off early season injuries. Meeks’ season-high 38 minutes in the win over USC might indicate he is nearing full strength, but Meeks said he still has some setbacks.

“I’m a little sore,” Meeks said after the game. “I probably won’t be 100 percent for a while.”

But according to Gillispie, having Jasper and Meeks back is part of the reason UK has been enjoying some newfound success lately.

“Having Derrick and Jodie back makes all the difference,” Gillispie said.

Gillispie goes old-school

Ask any coach and they’ll tell you turnovers are a team’s worst enemy.

Yet, when senior guard Ramel Bradley attempted a behind-the-bac­k pass that flew out of bounds and cost UK two crucial points with a little over 13 minutes remaining in Saturday’s game, Gillispie wasn’t angry at his point guard.

“I really didn’t mind the behind-the-back pass play that went out of bounds,” Gillispie said. “I love behind-the-back passes. I think it is fun for fans, but I didn’t think that was the particular time for that pass because (USC guard) Devan Downey had three fouls at that point, and I thought we should have attacked the basket to force him to make a decision of whether to foul or allow the basket.”

Bradley said that Gillispie doesn’t really care how the ball arrives at its destination, as long as it ends up in the basket.

“Coach has always told us that he doesn’t care if I throw it behind the back, through my legs or put it under my jersey and swing it out,” Bradley said. “The thing that coach is concerned with is finishing the play.”

Gillispie said in the post-game news conference that he loved watching old-school players like Bob Cousy make behind-the-back passes. Gillispie even joked that there might be footage of him making a few fancy dishes during his playing days.

“If there is (tape) then I want to see him doing it,” Bradley said.

Stevenson toughens up in the post

When scouting UK’s frontcourt, the one name that generally stands out is freshman-phenom Patrick Patterson.

While UK may seem one-dimensional in its low post set so far this year, Patterson has been receiving a little bit of help lately from another young frontcourt partner: sophomore forward Perry Stevenson.

Stevenson, who averages 4.9 points and 3.9 rebounds a game, exploded last week against Tennessee and USC. Stevenson scored 14 points, grabbed seven boards and pitched five blocks in 37 minutes against the Vols. Against the Gamecocks, Stevenson went 6-for-6 at the free-throw line and 3-of-8 from the field for 12 points and five rebounds.

For a team that spent much of the non-conference schedule looking for its identity, Stevenson seems to have found his.

“Unless you’re tough, you won’t survive,” Stevenson said after the South Carolina game. “And that’s what I’m trying to bring to the team.”