Move over Dan Issel

In one of the most impressive displays I’ve ever seen on a college basketball court, Jodie Meeks of Kentucky scored 54 points last night on the road at Tennessee. Meeks went 10-15 from three point range; 5-7 from two point range; and 14-14 at the foul line as Kentucky upset Tennessee 90-72.

Meeks’ 54 points set a new Kentucky single-game scoring record. The old record, 53 points by the legendary Dan Issel, had lasted 39 years.

I had never heard of Meeks until this week-end when I looked at the NCAA scoring leaders and found him in the top five. Last year, as a sophomore, the 6-4 guard averaged only 8.8 points and shot only 31 percent from the field.

UPDATE: Over at the Forum, GMG425 recalls the best performance in the history of Kentucky basketball — the 41 points Jack “Goose” Givens scored in the Wildcats’ 94-88 victory over Duke in the 1978 National Championship Game.

JOHN adds: That’s all well and good, but the real story is that while Kentucky is now 15-4 and unrated, the Wildcats’ former coach, Tubby Smith, has worked a miracle at Minnesota.

Two years ago, the Gophers–to put it politely–sucked. They finished an awful 9-22. During the offseason they hired Smith, who was on the outs at Kentucky because he hadn’t won a national championship in a while. Last year, with essentially the same woeful crew, the Gophers went 20-13; this year, with Tubby’s first recruiting class added to the mix, the Gophers are 15-1 and rated 17 and 18 in the two national polls. The Gophers are weirdly deep for a team that was awful just a year and a half ago; there are 11 players (only one a senior) who average 10 minutes or more a game, and no one who averages more than 29. The team’s strengths are its ferocious defense and the fact that in just about every game, a different player takes the offensive spotlight. Their renaissance is Minnesota’s feel-good sports story for 2009!

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