Jodie Meeks sat in a chair, hands resting on his knees. He had just scored 32 points in Kentucky's 102-58 rout of Tennessee State when a voice floated in from down the hallway.

"Michael Jordan, there go Michael Jordan!" the high-pitched shriek came.

Meeks turned and caught teammate A.J. Stewart trying - unsuccessfully - to duck out of sight after Monday's game. The junior guard let out a little laugh and just shook his head, enjoying the moment.

For Meeks, and his suddenly red-hot team, things are looking good.

Kentucky (9-3) has won nine of 10 after season-opening losses to Virginia Military Institute and No. 1 North Carolina. It is playing with the kind of confidence and fire not seen since Rick Pitino stalked the sideline a decade ago.

The Wildcats are averaging 81.3 points - the most since Pitino's last team in 1996-97 - and have already scored at least 88 points six times this year, a number it hit only seven times combined in the four previous seasons.

It helps having a healthy roster - namely Meeks, who is scoring 24.8 points a game after missing most of his sophomore season with a variety of maladies. There is also a renewed sense of belief in each other and in the exacting ways of their perfectionist coach.

"Last year was just so hard not only with me being injured but just the whole team being injured," Meeks said. "I think this year, we have a better record and it's a better mood."

These Wildcats hardly resemble the slightly dysfunctional, injury-ravaged mess they were this time last winter.

Kentucky limped into Christmas with a 5-5 record a year ago, a mark that included losses to Gardner-Webb, UAB and Houston and had the program's demanding fan base wondering whether first-year coach Billy Gillispie was up to the job.

Kentucky improved steadily as Gillispie coaxed 18 wins and a 17th straight NCAA Tournament berth out of a team that went only seven deep and played the final 3 weeks without star center Patrick Patterson, who had a stress fracture in his left ankle.

Gillispie promised better days and continued his overhaul by bringing in 11 new players as the roster swelled to 20. Finding the right pieces to put in the right places has led to a bumpy transition, and when the Wildcats lost their home opener to VMI it felt like Gardner-Webb all over again.

Except this time, rather than sulk through a battle of wills with their coach as they did last year, the Wildcats simply went back to work.

"I think they're learning to play hard, play smart and play together," said Gillispie, repeating the mantra that's at the core of his coaching beliefs.

If there's anything the Wildcats have learned under Gillispie, it's that playing good enough to win is not always good enough to please their coach.

"He wants perfection out there," Patterson said.


* Jeff Withey, a 7-foot freshman who spent one semester at Arizona but did not play for the Wildcats, will transfer to Kansas next semester.

Kansas coach Bill Self confirmed Withey's decision Wednesday night.

Arizona's top 2008 freshman, Withey requested a release from his scholarship before the season began after coach Lute Olson suddenly retired in October.

Withey chose Kansas over Texas, Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Indiana, San Diego, San Diego State and Boston College. *