Fresh off a reinvigorating win at Arkansas, the Kentucky Wildcats were back at home hosting a red-hot Vanderbilt team looking for a season-defining win.
Amazingly and yet unsurprisingly, Rupp Arena was packed a hellacious snowstorm as the Big Blue Nation cheered on their Cats, and they were treated to a fun first half. UK once again got off to a hot start on both ends of the court and jumped out to a quick double-digit lead as Rupp was rocking.
The Cats led by as many as 13 in the first half thanks to strong halves by Tyler Ulis (10 points) and Alex Poythress (8 points) as UK took a 37-27 lead into halftime.
From there, UK would open the second half on a 19-9 run to take command of the game and cruise to a 76-57 win, their 15th victory of the season. Here's a look at our quick takeaways from the game.
Get the Ball to Alex
"Alex Poythress is percolating right now" was how Mark Jones put it just 11 minutes into the game as the senior big man was asserting himself early and often. UK made it a point to get the ball to Alex, and he responded with eight quick points to help give the Cats an early big lead.
By the 9:17 mark of the opening half, Alex has already attempted six shots (hitting four), which alone was a big improvement over most of his games. This would end up being just the seventh game this season in which Alex attempted more than six shots.
While he doesn't need to be a volume scorer for this team, Alex must be more assertive and UK must make it more of a point to get him the ball. He's just too good of a player to not be attempting 5-7 shots every game.
Ulis Keeps Shining
Did we mention how good Tyler Ulis is playing right now?
He's playing at another level after recording his sixth game of 17+ points in his last seven outings. Against Vandy, Ulis chipped in 21 points and five assists in a game he was once again the best player on the floor. He was an absolute pest on defense and made life miserable for Vandy's guards (its starting backcourt finished 2-of-14 shooting).
But as we've seen more of lately, Ulis was a force on the offensive end and seemed to hit every big basket UK needed whenever it appeared Vandy was making a run. Ulis is also a big reason UK has committed just 13 combined turnovers over the last two games, and he's had just four total over the last three games vs. 18 assists.
Tyler the creator. https://t.co/dZonAjPght @RoushKSR— Dave Scott (@Finna_Go_HAM) January 23, 2016
https://t.co/qTkxknKiW7 @RoushKSR @MrsTylerKSR— Dave Scott (@Finna_Go_HAM) January 23, 2016
But what really makes Ulis special is how much he leads when the ball isn't in his hands.
Tyler Ulis is more of a floor general without the ball than most guards with it https://t.co/qHo5jxgTPX— Jason Marcum (@marcum89) January 23, 2016
We should start getting used to the idea of Tyler not being here next year. At the level he's playing, his NBA draft stock may never be higher than it will be this year.
More Strong First-Half Defense
For the third-straight game, Kentucky had a great showing on the defensive end to open a game as we saw flashes of just how strong these Cats can be in that regard. Physicality, assertiveness and just pure fight are things we've not seen enough of this season, but we've been starting to see them over the past few games.
Against Auburn, Arkansas and Vandy, UK allowed an average of just 27 points on 27-of-78 shooting (34.6%) in the first half. That's outstanding defense, and it's why the Cats held an average halftime lead of nine points in each game. That may seem small, but as talented as this UK team, that's often all they'll need to hold off teams and keep winning games.
Just a Fun Game
There hasn't been a lot to cheer about lately around Lexington thanks to UK's 3-2 start in SEC play while nearly falling out of the top 25. Even the Cats' most recent win in Rupp was an uninspiring 80-74 win over 8-10 Mississippi State.
But against a Vanderbilt team that appeared to have the firepower to hang with the Cats, UK had one of its best games of the season in what was maybe the most fun game they've had so far.
This simply was domination by a Kentucky team that's struggled to dominate anyone this year over a Vandy team that had won three straight by an average margin of 13.3 ppg, but looked vastly inferior to the Cats on this day. This was a good example of what many in the BBN envisioned of this year's UK team, and maybe, just maybe, they're finally reaching their potential.