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#12 UK Hoops Vs. Vanderbilt: Preview and Gamethread

After a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Tennessee, UK Hoops looks to add another SEC victory to their season. Next up: the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

1 point. That's all that that was needed for UK Hoops to ensure Tennessee didn't pull off a repeat of last year's faceoff in Lexington...when Tennessee won by 1 point.  Anytime a player thinks they can take a single possession off in a game, I hope coaches point to these kinds of games to show exactly why that is a very bad idea. "We do not back down. EVER!" Glory Road may have had some serious historical flaws but that line will never be anything but awesome.

Tonight the Cats take the court against that other rival from Tennessee, the Vanderbilt Commodores. And before you think "you can't compare Tennessee and Vanderbilt in women's basketball!" I will remind you that while both squads are 3-3 in Conference play and 3-4 in road games, Vandy is 14-5 on the season whereas UT is 12-7.

Other things to know about Vandy? They lead the conference is shooting from the field, where they hit just under 49% of their attempts, to go with being the second best 3 point shooters at 37%. They also hit a very respectable 70% of their free throws. That said, Matthew Mitchell cited their defense as his main concern. "Vanderbilt is just one of the toughest defensive teams in the country. They really, really play hard. They had 20 offensive rebounds on Monday night versus Alabama...and they make it very difficult on you to score. They are doing a great job in moving the basketball and moving people on offense, and this will be an extreme challenge for our team. We tried to get some work in yesterday...because we know this is going to be a battle. And we must be ready for this challenge."

He's not wrong - Vandy is the eighth best team in the country in scoring defense, holding their opposition to just 51.5 points per game. I haven't watched them enough to say exactly how they do it, and the stats don't really tell the story as they rank 11th in the SEC for defensive rebounding, 12th in steals and dead last in blocks per game.

To sum up: really strong defensive team who can also shoot the ball quite well will be at Memorial tonight desperately trying to kill the Cats 1 game win-streak. How can we make sure this doesn't go their way?

Our keys to victory:

  • I would strongly suggest putting our best guards on Christa Reed and Rachel Bell, the 'Dores two leading scorers. They're both averaging double digits, and making 44% of their shots from the field. They also both hit over 70% of their free throws. So guard them well but don't foul.  Neither of them are over six feet so I could see this duty going to Taylor Murray or Maci Morris.
  • Vanderbilt is definitely at a disadvantage in regards to height, so Mitchell needs to think about how to best use his bigs. Alexis is due for a good game and I have a feeling Alyssa Rice is looking to break out of the bench role. Evelyn just needs to do what the Destroyer of Worlds does so very well.
  • Makayla Epps. Really don't need to expand on that point. This is HER squad and she will drag us as far as she is capable of going. (And I think she's determined to get this squad DEEP into the tourney this year.)
  • Maintaining the positive attitude and work ethic Mitchell and his staff expect: The HBC had some interesting comments regarding Ivana's role this season, and why we saw some great effort from her against UT. "Yeah, she finally got on the floor and stopped the, ‘woe is me,' and ‘this is all happening to me and I have no role in this and coach won't play me,' and negative, negative rain cloud everything is happening to me. And I was getting on to her in practice and that was not having any effect. It was going down, down. So I finally just got her one-on-one. We have given a lot to Ivana in this program. We have given her great opportunity and worked hard for her and she is a wonderful person, but her attitude had gotten very negative and she was not performing and wasn't doing anything in practice. So I am not playing a person that does nothing in practice. You don't even have to play well in practice, but you have to do something. So she got on the floor two straight days in practice so I put her in the game. It is not hard at Kentucky to get into the game, it is really not. People have played here that are not world class athletes. If you will show any tenacity at all you will get on the floor here at Kentucky." That is about as candid as any coach in the country gets, outside of maybe Les Miles. I hope Ivana is listening, because we really cannot win without her.
We've gotten a little spoiled in the past week, with three games in a row televised. Tonight's sadly is not. (BOO!) You can watch the game via the SECNetwork+ or on ESPN3. You can also tune in to 630 WLAP via iHeart to hear Neil Price calling all the action. Tipoff is at 7 PM EST.

Until game time, Cat fans - GO BIG BLUE!