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Vanderbilt Commodores 70 at Kentucky 74: Postmortem

Kentucky held off a game Vanderbilt team in Rupp Arena with bigger plays down the stretch.

It was closer than we'd like, but a win is a win!
It was closer than we'd like, but a win is a win!

Okay, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, we got the win. It was one of those good news/bad news games, but compared to what happened in the last two contests, this was much better in every possible respect.

Congratulations to the Vanderbilt Commodores, who may be young, but when they see blue or orange, they become really tough to beat. I’ve never seen a team that could play two teams so tough, Kentucky and Tennessee, and fail to fire against everyone else. Vandy rained threes on Kentucky all night, and then suddenly found themselves able to score in the paint, too, as they overcame a lead that got as large as 13 points midway through the second half to get it down to four.

Fortunately, the Wildcats made plays down the stretch, and they came from almost everybody. Kentucky shot poorly from the line for most of the game, but made a fair percentage down the stretch of the game to hold on to a four-point victory. Not exactly bracing, but then again, after last week, I would have taken any margin of victory.

Player observations

  • Willie Cauley-Stein did a lot of very good things tonight. He ultimately preserved the victory with a couple of blocked shots that were very Nerlens Noel-like. 20 points on 8-10 shooting, 7 rebounds (3 offensive), 1 steal, 3 blocks, 3 turnovers and 4-7 from the line. Game ball.

  • Archie Goodwin had a very good game. Very good indeed. He was active, aggressive, and for the most part, under control. 16 points on 7-14 shooting, 2-4 from the line, 6 rebounds (3 offensive), 3 assists, 2 turnovers.

  • Ryan Harrow finally broke out of his slump, and for a while, was the best player on the floor. He looked confident, handled the ball with strength, made good decisions and good passes, and was aggressive when required. He kind of disappeared a little in the second half and didn’t shoot the ball well from outside, but overall, a vast improvement. 12 points on 6-9 from the field, 5 rebounds (2 offensive), 4 assists, 1 steal, 1 turnover.

  • Alex Poythress didn’t play great, but he had his moments, and made one huge 3-point play near the end of the game that was instrumental in preserving the win. 7 points on 3-9 shooting, 4 rebounds, and 0 turnovers.

  • Julius Mays played more minutes than any other player, and he was excellent. He kept the team under control, he was aggressive, he did a lot of good things that helped the team, but don’t show up on the stat line. He didn’t shoot it well, but when he made them, they were huge. 9 points on 2-7 shooting, 3-4 from the line, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal and 1 turnover.

  • Jarrod Polson was his usual spunky, scrappy self. He can’t guard too well, but he hustles and he does a good job gutting out tough plays that don’t show up much on the stats, but help a lot. He is starting to shoot the three with confidence. 3 points on 1-2 shooting, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 turnover.

  • Kyle Wiltjer didn’t have a great game. Once again, the Commodores took advantage of him with their much smaller, quicker lineup. Wiltjer also struggled to get the ball in scoring position. Vandy just seems to have his number. 7 points on 2-5 shooting, 3 rebounds, 1 impressive steal, and 2 big blocks.

  • Jon Hood played for a minute, but he didn’t play well and didn’t impact the stats.

Team observations

  • My heavens, but Kentucky’s defense was loathsome. The Wildcats couldn’t guard the perimeter, and then forgot how to guard off the bounce. I lost count of the number of times that Vandy got good, open looks. Scary. The Wildcats are going to have to figure something out soon, because defense like this isn’t beating Mizzou.

  • I loved how Kentucky executed on offense, for the most part, but there were times in which the Wildcats were once again flummoxed by the Vanderbilt zone.

  • Kentucky should rebound much better than Vandy. But they didn’t. That’s worrisome.

  • Turnovers were well under control in this game for the Wildcats. It really helped.

  • Five blocks as a team without Noel in the lineup is pretty darn good.

Look, we won, but we won in a way that does not inspire confidence. What does help a little is that we saw, for good stretches of this game, a more confident, more composed team than we have seen in a while, with or without Nerlens. The foul trouble we were in was troublesome, though, and it definitely affected the way the team played.

So is this a team that the Selection Committee will feel good about inviting to the NCAA Tournament? I’d have to say not yet. They are going to need more convincing. It would have helped if the ’Cats had crushed Vandy by 20+, but that didn’t happen even though it looked for a while like they might.

Consistency is still an issue. Defense is a big issue. But this team manifestly has not folded. That’s something to celebrate.