The Kentucky Wildcats will look to continue their drive towards "winning basketball" when they host the surging Vanderbilt Commodores Saturday.
UK head coach John Calipari has been stressing to young Cats to play more winning basketball in order to...you guessed it. Just win baby.
Not doing so is why UK entered Thursday's game vs Arkansas with a 1-3 mark in road games, but these Cats grew up and played like a team desperate for a win against the Hogs. They did so while making winning plays on both ends of the court throughout the night and never allowed Arkansas to make the Cats sweat en route to an 80-66 win for UK.
While the offense was very spotty, the defense was lights out in the first half. It was really a similar effort to what they had in the first half against Auburn.
Against Arkansas, the Cats did their best to suffocate the Hogs before they could get to halftime. UK rarely allowed easy shots on defense and made the Hogs work just to move the ball around as they shot just 40% (22-of-55). UK also locked down the perimeter as the Hogs hit just two of their 12 three-point attempts (16.7%).The Cats also blocked nine shots, grabbed 16 offensive boards and out-rebounded Arkansas by a 43-34 margin. This was exactly the kind of fight UK has to have to win on the road in SEC play.
They'll look for a repeat performance Saturday when Vandy comes to town riding a three-game winning streak in SEC play. The Dores' most recent win was an 88-74 thumping of Tennessee in a game that saw Vandy lead by 30 at one point in the second half.
Five Commodores scored in double figures, with Wade Baldwin IV leading the way with a career-high 25 points. Matthew Fisher-Davis scored 18 points and Camron Justice added 12 while the Dores hit 40.4% of their shots, 39.4% from three, and 74.4% from the free throw line. The Vols made only 32.9% of their shots, marking the seventh time this season Vanderbilt has held an opponent under 35% from the floor.
Vanderbilt made 13 three-pointers against the Vols, a season high, as were the 33 attempts. The Commodores are 29-62 from beyond-the-arc in their last three games (46.8%).
Vanderbilt ranks first in all games in the SEC in field-goal percentage defense (.373), 3FG% defense (.270), and are second in scoring margin (+13.1), 3FG% (.408), and threes made (8.7 per game). Nationally, VU ranks second in 3FG% defense, 7th in FG% defense, 10th in 3FG%, and 18th in blocks (5.6).
A big reason for Vandy's surge on the defensive end, as well as their early-season struggles, is junior forward Luke Kornet. In addition to narrow early losses against top-15 teams Kansas and Baylor, Vandy was without Kornet for five games in late December and early January, losing three of those games.
But since his return, Kornet has been a force: 9.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.2 blocks in five games back. Kornet's 10 blocks during Vandy's 75-57 win over Auburn set a new program record for blocks in a game. The 10 blocks is also the most in the nation this season, and his 3.3 average per game would lead the nation, but NCAA rankings only account for players who have played in 75% or more contests (Kornet is at 72%).
This will be the 187th all-time meeting between the two schools with Kentucky leading the all-time series 140-46 and 61-7 in games played in Lexington. Vanderbilt last won at Rupp Arena in 2007.
Here is everything you'll need to watch and follow the game.
Vanderbilt Commodores (11-7, 3-3 in SEC) at Kentucky Wildcats (14-4, 4-2 in SEC)
When: Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016
Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY
Game Time: 4 p.m. ET
Announcers: Mark Jones (PxP), Dick Vitale (Analyst) and Kaylee Hartung (Analyst)
Rosters: VU Roster; Kentucky Roster
Online Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: UK Radio Network (Tom Leach, Mike Pratt)
Odds: UK is a 6-point favorite, per Vegas Insider.
Last Meeting: UK won 65-57 (1/20/2015) in Rupp Arena.
John Calipari's Record vs. Vandy: 10-3
Kevin Stallings’ Record vs. Kentucky: 11-22
Projected VU Starters
#4 G - Wade Baldwin IV, 6-3, 194 lbs, So.
#13 G - Riley LaChance 6-2, 182 lbs, So.
#3 F - Jeff Roberson 6-6, 220 lbs, So.
#3 F - Luke Kornet 7-1, 240, Jr.
#30 C - Damian Jones 7-0, 245 lbs, Jr.
Projected UK Starters
#3 G - Tyler Ulis, 5-9, 160 lbs, So.
#13 G - Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202 lbs, Fr.
#23 G - Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207 lbs, Fr.
#35 F - Derek Willis, 6-9, 220 lbs, Jr.
#22 F - Alex Poythress, 6-8, 230 lbs, Sr.
My Prediction: Don't let Vandy's 11-7 record fool you. Injuries led to the Dores starting this season out slower than expected, but now that Luke Kornet is back and everyone is in sync, this team is very dangerous and fully capable of walking into Rupp and coming away with a win.
Heck, last year's Vandy squad had most of the same players and took a far superior UK team to the limit before falling by just eight points to the top-ranked Cats. Now more than ever, these Dores need a signature win like this just to get back into the conversation of an NCAA Tournament berth.
This will be a tight, back-and-forth affair that ultimately sees the home team come away with a narrow win.
Final Score: Kentucky 77, Vanderbilt 75