Exhibition win shows need for improvement

After UK’s 99-64 win over Pikeville College on Wednesday, when the Cats gave up 37 points in the second half, head coach Billy Gillispie said UK’s defense must improve.

With four minutes left in the first half of Saturday’s game against Seattle University, it appeared that the Cats had gotten the message. But by the end of UK’s 82-63 win, the UK defense showed Gillispie that it still had plenty to work on.

“We were much improved from Wednesday night,” Gillispie said. “But we have to do much better than that.”

UK jumped ahead in the first half behind stingy defense, forcing 11 turnovers and holding the Redhawks to 27 percent shooting from the field. But the Cats allowed 39 points in the second half. Seattle never got closer than 15 points, but they did exactly what Gillispie needed them to do in an exhibition.

“(Seattle) definitely exposed some weaknesses for us, but that’s what exhibitions are for,” Gillispie said.

One of UK’s main problems on defense was “way too many” fouls, Gillispie said. The Cats fouled Seattle 26 times, allowing 27 free-throw attempts.

Seattle stayed with the Cats for the opening eight and a half minutes of the game and trailed 16-10 just before the 11-minute mark. But for the next 12 minutes, the Redhawks managed just one field goal, and the Cats stretched the lead to 34-13. At that point, the game appeared to be in the books.

But the Redhawks outscored UK 13-5 in the final 4:02 of the first half to trim the Cats’ lead to 39-24 at intermission. Though Seattle’s run didn’t cost UK the game, similar runs could in later games, Gillispie said.

“It’s a learning situation,” Gillispie said. “At the end of the first half, we have a 34-11 lead, and they score 13 and we score 5. That’s not the way you finish a half.”

Apparently though, Gillispie won’t have to worry about the play of freshman forward Patrick Patterson.

Patterson scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds Wednesday in his Rupp Arena debut, but he elicited even more excitement on Saturday. The forward didn’t miss a shot — he was 6-for-6 from the field and 5-for-5 from the free-throw line — and led the Cats with 17 points.

Patterson also snagged seven rebounds and blocked three shots, but his effort during one short stretch in the second half was what menaced Seattle players most.

First, Patterson spun off his man in the lane, caught a lob pass from sophomore guard Jodie Meeks and slammed it home as he got fouled, igniting the crowd. Patterson sank the free throw; then, with Seattle running the floor, he sprinted to the other end and blocked a lay-in attempt.

After the ball went out of bounds, Patterson stood on the UK logo at center court, waving his arms and urging the crowd to get even louder. Moments later, Patterson drew an offensive foul call, giving the ball back to UK.

The freshman exited the game a minute later to a standing ovation.

Even Patterson, who was 16-for-18 from the field in two exhibition games, was surprised at how well he has started his UK career.

“Everything has been a surprise for the most part,” he said. “I am proud of myself, but I’m still not satisfied. Hopefully I can carry my level of play into next week when we play our first regular-season game.”

For the second time in as many games, Patterson also earned praise from the opposing coach.

“He’s a jewel,” Seattle head coach Joe Callero said. “I’d like to have him on our team.”

The game was the first between UK and Seattle since 1958, when the two teams played for the NCAA Championship in Louisville. Players from both of those teams were honored at halftime Saturday night.

With the two exhibitions out of the way, senior guard Joe Crawford said the Cats must now focus on improving before the games start counting.

“We played well these first two games, but there’s still things we need to work on,” Crawford said. “The season starts Tuesday, so we have to work out those kinks. We have to play smarter.”