What a game. I have not been more nervous at any time this year. The Kentucky Wildcats and the Vanderbilt Commodores battled to the wire in Rupp Arena in a wild affair that went down to the last tick of the last second before Kentucky could claim their 15th and final home game for a perfect season in Rupp Arena. But it was by no means a perfect game.
Congratulations to Vanderbilt for an outstanding effort that was very nearly enough. After struggling through much of the first half with shooting layups, the Commodores got tough and physical with Kentucky in the second half, and very nearly turned an 11 point first-half lead into an unlikely victory for the Gold and Black. In the end, Vanderbilt would get all but two of those 11 points back on inspired play by Festus Ezeli and a great second half from John Jenkins.
But just as Memorial Magic has so often buoyed the 'Dores, Rupp Arena is not without a little thaumaturgy of its own, and tonight, that extra smidgen of chemistry proved just enough to tilt the balance of the game to Kentucky. Despite a second half riddled with turnovers, forced shots, poor defense and other undesirable adjectives, the Wildcats tightened up in the clutch, made some huge free throws, and finished off the game despite a wild sequence in the end which saw Terrence Jones called for the third time for traveling, this time deep in Vanderbilt's end. Vandy wound up with 1.1 seconds to tie or win, but the lob to Ezeli went awry and time ran out for the 'Dores comeback effort.
- Josh Harrellson. Harrellson simply could not defend Ezeli, but what he did do is rebound the basketball both offensively and defensively, come up with steals and blocks. 8 points, 4 blocks, 3 steals, 9 rebounds and 3 OR's. Game ball on senior night. As it should be.
- Brandon Knight hit some really clutch baskets, but this was anything but his best game. Still Knight played hard despite shooting poorly and turning the ball over as many times as he made assists.
- Doron Lamb did not shoot well, but he did play some of the best defense he has played as a Wildcat against John Jenkins. Jenkins is going to score, but Lamb hung with him and except for a bad foul on a challenged three, helped hold him to three points in the first half.
- DeAndre Liggins helped Lamb guard Jenkins all night, and I was very impressed with both of them. Unfortunately, it took DeAndre a bit out of his game offensively.
Darius Miller had some great moments. He didn't have any rebounds, but that was largely because he was guarding perimeter guys. He was aggressive once again, and despite joining the rest of the team shooting the ball poorly, he really made himself a threat. Plus, he made a huge play at the end of the game and pried the ball loose from Ezeli under the basket.
- Eloy Vargas had one huge rebound and stick-back, but he struggled with the bigger, stronger Ezeli even more than Harrellson. Still, Vargas provided some minutes that Harrellson needed.
- Terrence Jones really had a poor shooting game and forced at least six shots. Still, he rebounded and made free throws, but his defense tonight was not his best effort, although to be fair, he had quite a bit of company in that particular area.
Kentucky was very lucky to win this game, but honestly, they were due some luck. At least three games this year they lost as much because of bad luck as anything else, and the basketball gods certainly owed them this one. I'm perfectly happy to accept the gift on behalf of humanity and the Big Blue Nation.
Beat the Tennessee Volunteers, and we have a real chance at the 2 seed. Go, 'Cats!