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By LARRY VAUGHT
NASHVILLE, Tenn. Ã¢â‚¬â€ When opponents focus on stopping DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson inside, Eric Bledsoe knows his job is simple Ã¢â‚¬â€ make 3-point shots.
He did here Saturday, too, as he went 5-for-8 from 3-point range and had 17 points in a 74-45 victory over Tennessee that puts Kentucky into SundayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If we make 3Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think nobody can touch us,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Bledsoe. Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to make shots. Today I got in a groove. I was shooting shots and they were just going in.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When they focus on DeMarcus and Patrick, that leaves openings for me and John (Wall) to penetrate and get everybody else open shots. Coach (John Calipari) told us, me and John, we’re the leaders. If we make the shots, that gets everybody else confident. He always tells me, Ã¢â‚¬ËœDon’t give up on your shot.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Even though I went 1-for-30, he just said, Ã¢â‚¬ËœKeep shooting the ball.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ And that’s what I did, and it paid off.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Bledsoe was expecting a physical contest Ã¢â‚¬â€ and got one.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We knew it would be a brawl,Ã¢â‚¬Â Bledsoe, who also had four rebounds, two assists and two steals in 33 minutes of play, said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But when we made shots, it took a lot out of them.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Calipari said BledsoeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s play often indicates what kind of success UK will have.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When Eric plays like unbelievably intense and aggressive, I know we’re in good shape. When he backs up a little bit, I’m a little worried. Then somebody else better steps up and play,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“When he plays, I know we’re fine.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Today I told him before we got on the bus, I said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Look, I want you to go crazy from the beginning of the game. You get on (Bobby) Maze, make him go left and go nuts. When you need a break, take yourself out. You take yourself out and then put yourself back in the game. We want you to go. If you miss a shot and it gets to you mentally, take yourself out and then go back in.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬Â
Maze often drove by Bledsoe in TennesseeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s win over UK in Knoxville last month, but he was only 1-for-8 from the field Saturday and had just three points in 26 minutes. Overall, Tennessee was only 17-for-55 from the field Ã¢â‚¬â€ a 30.9 percent mark.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Last time they outplayed us,Ã¢â‚¬Â Bledsoe said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“They got all the loose balls and went by us. Today our mindset was not to let that happen. They are good, but not good enough to beat us if we play hard and today we did that. We just really wanted to win and get to that title game.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Calipari said BledsoeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s play is often not appreciated enough by others.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ He is a competitor. He’s a battler. I’ve won with guys like him. People say he’s undersized. Let me tell you, he puts his head on the rim, and he makes big shots. He has all year for us. He’s made big free throws for us all year,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ When we beat Tennessee at home, he did the same thing at home. He made the shots that beat them in our building. No one else made a shot. His shots were the only ones that went down.Ã¢â‚¬Â
That could help more shots go down, too.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When you hit five 3-pointers in a game, it just gives you confidence that you can make even more,Ã¢â‚¬Â Bledsoe said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I wish we could go play again right now.Ã¢â‚¬Â