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8 more thoughts on Kentucky Wildcats’ narrow win over Vanderbilt Commodores

The Cats are shooting better and staying alive in a wild SEC race.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Just a few days after Kentucky had an amazing comeback on the road against WVU they returned home to face a Vanderbilt team that was fresh off a big win over TCU.

A lot of fans were hoping that the Cats would come out and dominate the Commodores for 40 minutes, but that couldn’t be further from what took place.

Right from the tip, both teams struggled to score as at the first media timeout the Cats had a narrow 7-2 lead. It didn’t take long for Vandy to make a run of their own and with just under 11 minutes to go in the half the Cats trailed 11-10.

Kentucky made a run and looked prepared to run away with it but a few breakdowns on defense allowed Vanderbilt to comeback and take a 33-27 lead into the break.

Coming out of halftime, many UK fans myself included expected Kentucky to be into the game and play a good 20 minutes to win. However, Vandy had other ideas and went on a major run and led 42-31 at the under 16 media timeout.

The Cats found themselves down by as many as 14 before they finally started making their run. Kentucky stormed back just to have Vanderbilt extend the lead back out.

With 5 seconds left in the game, the Commodores were on the foul line up 1. They extended it to two and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was fouled with 2 seconds left with and made both to send it to overtime. In OT, the Cats executed just a little better than Vanderbilt did and was able to come away with a nail biting 83-81 victory.

Thoughts on the game

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was outstanding

Saturday Knox put Kentucky on their back to win but in this one Shai was the man pouring in 30 points on 12/19 shooting. He also made two clutch free throw with two seconds left when we were down two to forced OT. Shai either scored or assisted on 28 of Kentucky’s last 40 points. Two of Shai’s best games this season has been against Vandy, so he must really like playing against the Commodores.

Nick Richards had another good game

In several games this season Richards has been a no factor. But he came up big against WVU and against Vandy he was the only one that had energy and kept up in it for the first several minutes. He needs to continue to build on this type of play and get to being a factor consistently.

Quade Green was the savior

Green came in with 12 points and made some big shots during the minutes when Kentucky was making their comeback. He also made the game winning layup with 4 seconds left in OT to seal the game and allow the Cats to escape with a narrow victory. Green is finally getting back in the groove after his injury and that is huge going forward.

Another Hami dud

Hamidou Diallo has had a rough January, especially over the last two weeks. Over his last six games, Diallo has scored 10 or fewer points on four occasions. He’s shot below 38 percent in five games, and he’s got 10 turnovers vs eight assists. That includes two points on 0-of-3 shooting against Vanderbilt on Tuesday. He hit just two of his four free throws and managed to play just 21 minutes in a game that went into overtime. It’s clear that Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are superior guards right now, and Diallo is slowly falling out of favor.

3-ball improving

After a horrid stretch of three-point shooting against South Carolina and Florida, the Cats have found some rhythm over their last three games, hitting 18 of 46 from deep (39%). That’s a huge improvement over how Kentucky has been shooting for much of the season, and it’s a big reason why the Cats have reeled off three-straight wins. The big performer here has been Kevin Knox, who’s hit 11 of his 18 three-point attempts during that span.

Free throws too

Another area Kentucky was woeful in during their two-game losing streak were free throws. That has also improved dramatically over the last three games, as the Cats have shot 74-plus percent in those games. That includes an 18-of-18 second-half mark against West Virginia, followed by a 20-of-27 outing against Vanderbilt.

Stayin’ alive for SEC crown

Make no mistake about it: A loss Tuesday would have killed any hope Kentucky had of winning another regular-season SEC crown. With Auburn now 8-1 in league play, a loss to Vanderbilt would have dropped Kentucky to 5-4 in SEC games. They’ve still got Tennessee, at Auburn, at Texas A&M, at Missouri, Alabama and at Florida left on the schedule, so the odds of winning the SEC are still against Kentucky, but they’ve still got a fighting chance.

The Cats showed fight

With the circumstances of the game the Cats probably shouldn’t have won. Kentucky was outrebounded 37-35, Vandy shot a higher percentage from the field, and had more assists than we did. The fact that we still won shows just how much fight these young Cats have. They never stop when they get down they believe they can still win and more times than not this season they have won. Having fight is huge when March rolls around.