Monday, January 13, 2014

Vanderbilt 62 - 71 Kentucky (No. 2,123)

Kentucky jumped out to a nine-point lead after 10 minutes, and that was their margin at the end of the game.  Here is the score by quarters:

1st:  Kentucky 15, Vanderbilt 6
2d:  Vanderbilt 16, Kentucky 15 (UK led 30-22 at the half)
3d:  Kentucky 21, Vanderbilt 17 (UK led 51-39 with 10 minutes to go)
4th:  Vanderbilt 23, Kentucky 20 (UK won 71-62)

As you can see, Vandy's offense got better and better as the game went on.  Part of that was that the Dores made some tough shots.  But part of it is that Vandy did a good job of adjusting to UK's defense -- the Dores shot 19-30 from 2-point range.  UK was somewhat fortunate that Vandy went only 6-20 from three-point range -- if the Dores had made a few more three-pointers early in the game, they could have given UK some real heartburn.

Of course, the big story for this game was that Vandy's leading scorer was kicked off the team, leaving the Dores with only seven scholarship players.  As a result, I think a lot of UK fans thought the Wildcats might blow out Vandy, and they were disappointed with a nine-point win.  I think that's wrong.  UK was favored by 8 points, and Ken Pomeroy had them winning by only five -- so the experts were not expecting a blowout.  In fact, this was UK's biggest margin of victory at Memorial Gym since 2005.

Vandy almost always plays its best basketball against the Cats, and Greg Anthony of CBS rightfully gave the Dores a lot of credit for playing hard and executing their game plan.  Kevin Stallings had Vandy packed into a 2-3 zone, and Vandy largely conceded the offensive glass in order to stop UK's transition game.  Julius Randle had cramp problems in the second half, and was only 3-10 from the field against the Vandy zone.  James Young had foul trouble in the first half, and went only 2-10 from the field (including a brutal 1-7 from three-point range).  So those two guys combined for only 13 points -- and the Cats still put up 71 points in only 65 possessions.

This happened because UK played a very smart game for the most part.  They didn't force the action, committing only 10 turnovers.  They probably did take too many three's, but they seem to have realized that they are going to miss a lot of shots, and they fought hard for the offensive rebounds.  In fact, the Cats got 18 offensive rebounds (to only 5 for Vandy) and that was the difference in the game.  Thanks to its superior offensive rebounding, UK ended up taking 61 shots, while Vandy took only 50.

On the whole, it's hard to see how UK could have done much better -- given the simple fact that they are not good shooters.  They were 6-22 from three-point range, and only 13-22 from the line, and by this point in the season it seems clear that this is who they are.  UK is 308th in the country in three-point shooting percentage (29.8 percent) and 286th in free throw percentage (66.0 percent), and those figures are not likely to change very much.  But the Cats still have the 8th-most efficient offense in the country, mainly because they lead the country in offensive rebounding, and because they get the line a lot.  (Against Vandy they made more free throws (13) than Vandy took (10)).  In other words, their hard work and physical strength is making up for their lack of shooting ability.  It's hard to see how we fans could ask for much more -- at least on the offensive side of the ball.  When it comes to defensive efficiency, the Cats are only 40th in the country -- that's the area where they need big improvements.

Next up, UK goes to Arkansas.  The Cats got a bad break on Saturday, when Arkansas had Florida down 64-57 with only 4:43 left -- but then blew that lead and lost 84-82 in overtime.  To keep pace with the Gators, therefore, UK has to win at Arkansas on Tuesday night -- and Bud Walton Arena has been a house of horrors for the Cats in recent years.  This game is basically a coin flip -- Pomeroy has UK winning 81-79, which means it's very much up for grabs.  Arkansas is 0-2 in the SEC, and they will play with manic desperation in an effort to save their season.  This would be a brutal challenge for any team, much less a young team like the Cats.


  1. At Vanderbilt in the immediate aftermath of losing its leading scorer was at least as impressive a win to me as the Louisville game. My 8-8 2013 Dolphins might've beaten Louisville, but I'm pretty sure they would've lost to Vandy.

    1. I agree. I'm afraid, however, that only the Anthony Davis team would be good enough to beat Arkansas on Tuesday night.

  2. According to Vegas, the Cats are favored by 1 in Arkansas tonight. That game tips off at 8 Central, so I predict a long and stressful night in the Commonwealth.

  3. Coach Cal's record at UK in SEC road games is 21-13.