HOUSTON: Billy Gillispie has accomplished something Rick Pitino also did in his first year at Kentucky.
He's lost four straight games.
Dion Dowell scored 19 points and Robert McIver added 18 as Houston matched its best start since the days of Phi Slama Jama with an 83-69 victory over Kentucky on Tuesday night.
Joe Crawford scored 28 points and Jodie Meeks had 21 in his return from an injury for the Wildcats (4-5), who have lost four straight for the first time since 1989-90 when Pitino's first Kentucky team dropped five in a row.
"We've got to figure out exactly what we are," said Gillispie, coaching in his home state for the first time since leaving Texas A&M last April. "We're caught in between offensively, we're caught in between defensively.
"Maybe, in some people's minds, we want to outscore everyone," he said. "At the biggest times in games, you have to get stops. We haven't gotten a stop all year when we've really needed to, I think."
The offense looked better than it has most of the season, with the sharp-shooting Meeks back after missing the last six games with a stress fracture in his pelvic area. But just as he got healthy, the Cats lost leading rebounder Patrick Patterson to an ankle injury.
Gillispie said Patterson twisted his ankle on Monday and the freshman was ready to play until moments before tipoff.
"I said, 'Can you play?' He said, 'Yeah, I can play,'" Gillispie said. "I said, 'Do you think it's best that you play?' He said, 'No.' Obviously, he's a tough guy. Obviously, he was hurting more than he was letting on."
Gillispie said he sensed his players' morale sag when he told them Patterson was out.
"It takes you aback when it happens when it happened tonight," Gillispie said. "You just have to figure out what you're going to try to do. Not that we're totally dependent on Patrick, but he's played well for us. He's a major part of our deal."
The Wildcats next play on Saturday, against Tennessee Tech.
Tafari Toney had nine points and eight rebounds and Lanny Smith had eight assists for the Cougars (10-1), who are off to their best start since the 1983-84 team won 10 of its first 11. That team, led by Hakeem Olajuwon, lost to Georgetown in the NCAA championship game.
The Cougars outrebounded Kentucky 38-33 and forced 18 turnovers to overcome 36 percent shooting.
Houston led 45-33 at halftime, then pulled away with defense and rebounding.
The Wildcats went the final 6:21 of the first half without a field goal, missing four shots and committing four turnovers. Michael Porter hit a 3-pointer from the corner 17 seconds into the second half to snap Kentucky's field goal drought.
But the Cougars went back to the smothering zone defense they used in the first half, and the Wildcats promptly committed two turnovers and lost their shooting touch again.
Toney hit a free throw and McIver made a 3-pointer from the wing to start a decisive 16-5 run. Toney scored twice on putbacks to extend the lead to 53-37.
"Tafari Toney, one of the keys to the game, was his play," Houston coach Tom Penders said. "He was a presence inside. He was really attacking the glass."
Crawford picked off a steal, drove for a layup and converted a three-point play for the Wildcats with 14:36 left. But the 6-foot-8 Toney turned another offensive rebound into a three-point play at the other end.
Houston's lead went over 20 and the Wildcats' frustration boiled over not long after that, when Crawford wrapped up Marcus Malone and was called for an intentional foul. The two players faced off briefly before a referee stepped between them.
Kentucky made a mild run too late. Crawford converted a three-point play with 2:52 left to cut Houston's lead to 74-64. The Cougars broke the Wildcats' full-court press and Kelvin Lewis finished the fast break with an alley-oop pass to Dowell for a dunk.
"I told our guys, 'They're going to make a run. Don't panic. It just happens,'" Penders said. "'Just don't lose your poise.'"
Meeks carried Kentucky's offense in the first half, scoring 17 points.
The Cougars came in averaging more than 10 3-pointers per game, but they missed nine of their first 14 attempts. Brockeith Pane and Dowell both hit one as Houston finished the half with a 10-0 run.
Houston retired Michael Young's No. 42 jersey at halftime. Young was a starter on the Cougars' Phi Slama Jama teams that reached three Final Fours between 1982-84.