Gillispie Doesn't Fear Letdown After Tennessee Game

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- After one of the most celebrated losses in recent Kentucky basketball history, coach Billy Gillispie is well aware that nothing less than a victory will suffice as an encore.

The Wildcats (16-11, 10-4 Southeastern Conference) face a virtual must-win scenario against South Carolina Wednesday to keep alive hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

On Sunday, Kentucky -- playing without freshman phenom Patrick Patterson, sidelined with a stress fracture in his ankle -- pushed then-No. 1 Tennessee to the wire before falling short, 63-60. Despite the losing cause, Gillispie heralded the effort as heroic.

"Not one person came up to me and said, 'Hey coach, go get them, let's win this thing,"' Gillispie said. "Everybody was trying to be supportive and sympathetic, but it was a little bit lost that we went there to win. We gave a gallant effort and came up a little bit short."

Just as Kentucky almost sneaked up on the Volunteers, Gillispie says the Gamecocks (13-15, 5-9) are dangerous, despite being out of contention. He cites some of South Carolina's close losses, including a 78-70 defeat to the Wildcats in January, and the presence of star guard Devan Downey.

"He's a perfect guard if you've got shooters, and he's close to perfect if you don't," Gillispie said. "I don't know how you guard that guy."

South Carolina is finishing its home season with the game, which could mean the last game ever for coach Dave Odom, who announced his retirement earlier this season. This week, Odom acknowledged the emotions are starting to hit him.

"When I leave my house on Wednesday night, when I take that ride for the last time, being human, I am sure I will think about it," he said. "I am not sure what I will think and everything I do in that building -- it will be the last time I do it."

Gillispie expressed confidence his team would be able to deal with the emotions of Odom's finale and also not suffer a letdown in their second game without Patterson. Perry Stevenson and Mark Coury excelled in his absence Sunday.

"If you have to play it by ear a little bit, I'm definitely happy with the soldiers we've got going fighting for us," Gillispie said.

One of those soldiers, Kentucky senior Ramel Bradley, got special praise this week from Odom, who suggested he should be in the running for SEC player of the year.

"If you lose Patrick Patterson, you better have a Ramel Bradley," Odom said. "He did a phenomenal job against Tennessee."

After traveling to South Carolina, Kentucky finishes the season at home with its own Senior Day against Florida before playing in the SEC tournament.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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