The Wildcats were ready and anxious to prove a few things against their next opponent. The Vanderbilt Commodores were the victims of the evening, as the ‘Cats looked to avenge their 30-point loss at Tennessee. With their post-season hopes on the line, looking to prove they can win without Nerlens Noel, Kentucky came out with guns firing. If you wanted hustle, you got it. If you wanted a sense of urgency, you got it. If you wanted a team with a chip on their shoulder, you got it!
Despite a few early three’s from Vanderbilt’s Rod Odom, a 23-9 Kentucky burst had Rupp Arena rockin’. The ‘Cats were winning the 50/50 balls, and played with a ton of energy early. The highlights of the first moments came from the Kentucky guards. Ryan Harrow was extremely assertive, but managed to stay in the flow of the offense. After not scoring the past couple of games, Harrow scored 6 quick points. Archie Goodwin played extremely controlled, setting up the offense instead of bull-rushing into a crowd. Goodwin also scored 6 quick points. Shortly after Harrow/Goodwin, Jarrod Polson enters the game and splashes a three pointer.
With the Kentucky guards catching fire, Vanderbilt was down big but there was still a lot of time left. With the ‘Cats still struggling to find their identity on the defensive end without Noel, Vanderbilt began to burn the ‘Cats from behind the three-point line. Most notably, Rod Odom was a constant thorn in the ‘Cats side, and UK lead was shrinking fast. The Commodores hit 6 0f 9 three-point attempts in the half.
Archie Goodwin continued his silky smooth play and kept the ball under control. Harrow and Goodwin started the game, and in the first 16 minutes scored a combined 20 points and shot 10 of 14 from the field. They also had 5 assists and only 1 turnover the entire half. Vandy continued to make their own shots, but Kentucky seemed to have an answer with the play of their guards. The ‘Cats lead 42-34. A very good overall half for the ‘Cats, but their defense left a lot to be desired. The foul situation was also a small concern for Kentucky as Wiltjer, Cauley-Stein, Harrow, and Poythress all ended the half with 2 fouls.
The game seemed to be played eerily similar to the game in Nashville. The ‘Cats came out guns firing, and got a huge lead. The ‘Dores climbed back into the game just before half, and got the game within reach before heading into the locker-room. The 2nd half of the game in Nashville got way too close and if a late three-pointer had fallen, the ‘Dores would have racked up the win.
History looked to be trying to repeat itself early in the 2nd half. While Vanderbilt was not hitting the three pointer, they were able to take advantage of Kentucky’s lack of depth. With Willie Cauley-Stein having 2 fouls, the Vandy guards made a living driving down the lane for easy buckets. Cauley-Stein had a solid first half with 12 points, but was limited by his fouls. With less than 3 minutes gone in the 2nd half, Cauley-Stein picked up his 3rd foul and and to return to the bench. Ryan Harrow then picks up his 3rd foul just 5 minutes later. However, the ‘Cats continued to make shots and keep their lead over 10 points.
As good as the guards played in the 1st half, Willie Cauley-Stein was not going to be overshadowed in the 2nd stanza. John Calipari worked specifically with his guys on throwing the lob play to WCS. They fed the big man all night, and he cashed in big time. He made his living on dunks and using his big body to get his shots up and over the Vandy defenders. The ‘Dores kept the ‘Cats from extending the lead more than 12 points.
After showing so much energy and hustle for a full half, the ‘Cats began to show signs of getting tired with less than 8 minutes to play. Kentucky allowed Vandy to hit another three pointer and cut the 10 point lead down to 7. With 5:54 to play, the ‘Cats had gone at least 6 minutes without scoring a basket. Kentucky was helping themselves by taking care of the ball, only committing 4 turnovers at this point in the game. In retrospect, Archie Goodwin has had 11 games with at least 4 turnovers by himself. After a very late goal tending call on Willie Cauley-Stein, the ‘Cats lead was 58-53 with 5:11 to play. Alex Poythress took it upon himself to answer on the other end. Poythress rose up and dunked all over a helpless Vandy defender, and got the foul. He made the free-throw and the UK lead is 61-55 with less than 5 minutes to play.
Meanwhile, Vandy used a 14-3 run to cut the UK lead to 61-59 while the ‘Cats couldn’t buy a basket or more than 6 minutes. With all the momentum going in favor of the Commodores, Julius Mays saves the day again for the ‘Cats. Mays stepped back and drained a 3-pointer to give the ‘Cats a 5-point cushion with 3 minutes to play. On the very next play, Julius Mays finds Cauley-Stein cutting to the basket for a dunk and the lead grows to 7 points in a hurry. Vanderbilt then answers on the other end with yet another 3-pointer. 66-62 UK with 1:35 t0 g0. Who answers for the ‘Cats? It’s Ryan Harrow down the lane for a layup to make it 68-62. What happens next? You guessed it, Vandy nails another three pointer. It’s 68-65 UK with 1:09 to play. Archie Goodwin responds for the ‘Cats by getting fouled on a driving layup. Goodwin makes both free-throws at the line and it’s 70-65 with :58.7 secs. left.
A frantic Vanderbilt squad runs down the floor and slips into the far corner looking for a jump shot. Willie Cauley-Stein sees the Vandy player, jumps and swats the ball out of bounds with :34 secs. left. Julius Mays gets fouled on the next UK possession and makes 1 of 2 free-throws. UK lead 71-65. Again, Vanderbilt frantically rushes down the court only to get their shot blocked by Willie Cauley-Stein. The back-to-back blocks by WCS sealed the game for the ‘Cats. Mays makes a couple of free-throws, Vandy nails another 3-ball to make it interesting, but just runs out of time. The ‘Cats take the win 74-70. Ballgame.
The tenacious and fiery Kentucky Wildcats proved they still have a ton of fight left in them, when the majority of the basketball world has them destined to be in the NIT. Willie Cauley-Stein finished the game with a career high 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Goodwin added 16, Harrow had 12, and Mays had 9 points with 6 assists. Both Poythress and Wiltjer added 7 points in the win. Great team win, great play by the guards and by Willie Cauley-Stein. Very encouraging game for everyone involved. Missouri will come to town on Saturday, let’s keep this going.