Saturday, February 23, 2013

Kentucky 74 - 70 Vanderbilt (No. 2,108)

I watched this game through a flu-induced haze, sitting on my couch near a roaring fire that SmartMom had built in order to keep me warm.  Under the circumstances, I would have preferred a nice, quiet game with very little drama.  But under the leadership of Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt views every game with UK as a sort of Holy War, and a very weak Commodore team played one of its best games of the year to keep things close.

Vandy had to play well, because UK came out showing a lot of energy and emotion.  Almost halfway through the first half, the Cats were up 23-9, and it looked as though they were going to blow Vandy out.  But Stallings had seen Vandy come back from a 16-point deficit against UK earlier this year, and he was not going to panic.  He was also fortunate in that Vandy was red-hot from three-point range.  The Dores made something like 6-9 three-pointers in the first half to get back into the game, so UK led by only 42-34 at the half.

In the second half, Vandy concentrated on sitting in its 2-3 zone, and waiting for the inevitable 5 minute stretch in which UK doesn't score.  That happened with about 9 minutes to go and the Cats up 58-45.  At the same time UK went cold, Vandy started scoring -- the Commodores, who have struggled to score all year, put up 25 points in the last 10 minutes of this game. With less than four minutes to go, UK's lead was only 61-59, and one could feel the whole season slipping away.  But then Julius Mays ended UK's long drought from the field by hitting a 3-pointer to put the Cats up 64-59 -- and after that UK's offense worked well enough for the rest of the game to hold off Vandy.

UK's main hero was Willie Cauley-Stein, who went 8-10 from the field and 4-7 from the line to score 20 points.  He also picked up 7 rebounds.  Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow had much better luck with their running flip shots against the relatively short Commodores than they do against more athletic squads -- Goodwin finished with 16 points (on 7-15 shooting), while Harrow scored 12 points (on 6-10 shooting).  The Cats could have used some good three-point shooting against Vandy's zone, but they went only 4-12 from behind the arc.  And they continued to struggle at the line, where they made only 12-21 free throws.

Still, an analysis of UK's performance this year shows that their offense is actually much better than their defense.  In SEC play, UK has had the fourth-most efficient offense, trailing only Florida, Missouri, and Mississippi.  But UK's defensive efficiency is 12th out of 14 teams.  The Cats are last in the SEC in generating turnovers, 10th in preventing offensive rebounds, and 13th in the steals.  UK has also run into some red-hot three-point shooting of late.  Here are the 3-point shooting numbers for UK's opponents in the last four games:

Auburn:  7-13 (53.8 percent)
Florida:  6-14 (42.9 percent)
Tennessee:  5-5 (100 percent)
Vanderbilt:  10-22 (45.5 percent)

Over those four games, UK's opponents have made 28-54 three-pointers, an average of 51.9 percent.  To put that in perspective, consider that Indiana leads the nation in 3-point shooting percentage at 42.8 percent.  If UK draws an opponent that's very cold from the outside, its defense will look better -- although the Cats' problems with clearing the boards and generating turnovers will likely continue to haunt them.

Still, after a humiliating loss at Tennessee a victory of any kind is nothing to sneeze at.  This team is in survival mode at this point, just hoping to somehow scratch out enough victories to get into the NCAA Tournament.  Next up the Cats will host ESPN Gameday for the first time since 2010, and they have what could be a season-defining game against the Missouri Tigers.

4 comments:

  1. Feel better, Go Heath, and go, UK!

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  2. And mad props to SmartMom on the fire! The home we bought in Madisonville has a gas log, and it's definitely effective, convenient and immensely cleaner. But I do love the challenge of building a maintaining a real fire and miss it.

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