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Kentucky defense suffocates Vanderbilt for win: 5 things we learned & postgame banter

Kentucky’s defense put the clamps down to carry the Wildcats to another hard-fought win over the Dores.

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

Saturday night at Rupp Arena was full of action, with Big Blue Nation assisting in one of the best turnouts this season and the Kentucky Wildcats playing more roller-coaster basketball against the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Kentucky fell behind early and trailed into halftime, 30-28. However, the Wildcats outscored the Commodores by 13 in the second half for a 56-47 decision. Ashton Hagans and Keldon Johnson each had 15 points to lead all scorers. Immanuel Quickley added 12, as those three accounted for 42 of Kentucky’s 56 points.

Here are five things we learned from their second straight SEC win.

Tale of Two Halves

Another day, another 10-point deficit early in the game for the Wildcats. The first circumstance came on Tuesday against Texas A&M, with the second coming on Saturday against Vanderbilt. Kentucky allowed the Commodores to net four of their first five three-point attempts, leaving opponents wide open on the perimeter.

The second half was a different story, though, as Kentucky came out with their guns blazing en route to a 7-0 run over the first two minutes. The Wildcats quickly put the clamps on the Commodores (24% shooting during the second half) to seal the victory.

Kentucky is playing with fire as of late and should start handling their business early in games.

Travis Missing in Action

For Kentucky’s frontcourt, there wasn’t a more consistent force than Reid Travis to start the season. However, his play has taken a few steps back over the last four outings. Travis has averaged just eight points per game over that stretch, far from his dominating self over the team’s first 11 games.

It’s also worth noting that Nick Richards has been the first in for Travis when Kentucky has fallen behind in their last two games.

Kentucky’s matchups haven’t exactly been ideal, as Travis will most likely excel against bigger teams like Tennessee (Feb 16th & Mar 2nd). However, not every game will be “ideal,” and Travis will need to adjust to that moving forward.

Half-Court Offense Struggles

When the Wildcats are forcing missed shots and scoring easy baskets in transition, life is great. However, when Kentucky’s defense is as bad as it has been over the past few outings, scoring the rock becomes a legitimate challenge.

Kentucky’s lack of movement in the half-court is blatant to the casual fan, let alone someone actually paying attention to detail for the full 40 minutes of action. As team’s study Kentucky’s film, more will realize that guarding the Wildcats isn’t as challenging as it looks on paper.

This is an area in need of desperate attention, with the fix starting straight at the top.

Hagans Injury Scare

Kentucky fans were gasping for air after watching Ashton Hagans go down with what looked like a bad back injury. Thankfully, he’s all good. The last thing this team needed was a starter to be injured, especially Hagans, who is becoming a star before our very eyes.

Quickley Shines, Again

John Calipari seems to have found his team’s sixth man. Immanuel Quickley has taken the role by the horns and found his niche with the team. After a bumpy start to the season, the transfer of Quade Green freed up more minutes for Quickley. Over the past three games, he’s excelled with the opportunity.

The freshman combo guard has scored eight, 10 & 12 points during the stretch. His scoring boost off of the bench, as well the threat he presents from behind the arc, has been a much-needed gift in the half-court.

Next up will be a trip to Georgia on Tuesday, as the Bulldogs will host the Wildcats for a 7 pm EST tip-off.