The Kentucky Wildcats came into Saturday off a win against Texas A&M and looking to stay on the winning side of things as they took on the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Unfortunately, this was the third-straight slow start for the Cats, as they found themselves trailing 16-4 early. This, is after they started the A&M game down 12-2 before making the comeback.
Like Tuesday night, the Cats started chipping away at the deficit, and with just under 8 minutes left in the half, Kentucky cut the lead to 22-19 off a three by Immanuel Quickley.
Kentucky seemed uncomfortable offensively trying to figure out how to attack the zone defense that Vandy was playing, but as the half continued, they slowly figured it out.
A jumper by Tyler Herro tied the game at 28 but it was the Commodores that had the last bucket of the half, and the Cats went into the break trailing 30-28.
After halftime, the Cats came out strong, going on a 7-0 run to claim a 35-30 lead before Vandy answered with a jumper to quiet the crowd.
With just under 12 minutes left to play, Kentucky had built a 44-37 lead after Ashton Hagans gets a steal and finished the break with a dunk.
Kentucky’s offense was not clicking at all throughout this one, but you have to give credit to Vandy’s defense for that, as the zone had the Cats uncomfortable the entire game.
Kentucky only managed to score 12 points in the last 12 minutes, but they only gave up 8 during that time, as they went on to claim another SEC win, 56-47.
Thoughts on the game
Quickley continues to gain confidence
During McDonald's All-American weekend, we saw Quickley win the three-point contest. He then came out and won the three-point contest at Big Blue Madness.
Unfortunately, for a lot of the season. that shooting hasn’t shown up into the game for Quickley. However, since SEC play has started, he has been shooting the ball very well and with a lot of confidence, as he’s starting to become Kentucky’s most reliable three-point shooter.
He was a big factor against Vanderbilt when it felt like the Cats couldn’t score. Quickley knocked down some big shots that helped push this team to victory.
Reid Travis continues to struggle
Throughout the non-conference schedule, Travis was the backbone for this team. He was the most consistent player night in and night out.
However, since SEC play has started, he has seemed to struggle with the length and athleticism of the opposing bigs in the conference. He never had to face bigs like this so often at Stanford, and it is showing right now, as he continues to struggle with scoring in the paint.
Hopefully, he will be able to adjust to the length sooner rather than later and will start being an impact player for this team again.
PJ Washington needs to step up
Coming into the year, PJ was expected to be the leader of this team and one of the players that showed up and performed at a high level each game.
Well, that has been far from the case.
PJ has had spurts this season where we have got a taste of what he can be. The problem is, he doesn’t give that very often and we haven’t seen it since the UNC game.
Tonight, PJ had 3 points, 8 rebounds, an assist, a block, and a steal. That is nowhere near the stat line that he should be having. Hopefully, he will decide that he wants to be the force he is capable of being and turns it on soon.
Tyler Herro can’t be a ghost
For whatever reason, Tyler Herro was a no-show offensively in this game. He finished with season-low one shot and scored just four points, his second-lowest output of the season. With Vanderbilt playing so much zone, this was exactly the kind of game Herro needed to shine in, and instead, he was a ghost for most of the night.
To his credit, Herro grabbed six rebounds and dished out three assists, but he had three turnovers. Kentucky won’t win many, if any games going forward when he has this kind of performance.
EJ remains glued to the bench
EJ Montgomery has fallen so far in the rotation that he’s barely seeing the floor now. He finished with just three rebounds, one block and no shot attempts in eight minutes of play vs. Vanderbilt.
With Travis struggling so much against athletic bigs, you would think Montgomery would get a chance to show what he can do against them, but he’s barely getting off the bench. He’s logged single digit minutes in five of his last seven games and has failed to score more than four points in that span.
The only good thing from this is it increases the chances that he’ll return for a sophomore season, but Kentucky needs him to make an impact to reach its potential this year.
Kentucky locks down three-point line
A big key in this game was going to be how well Kentucky defended the three-point line after getting lit up from distance in their first two SEC games. That turned out to be even more true with Kentucky’s offense failing to score 60 points.
If I would have told you Kentucky would score just 56 points in this one, you’d probably have felt pretty confident the Cats would lose. Thankfully, Kentucky stepped up in a big way beyond the arc, holding the Commodores to 7/25 shooting from deep.
Matt Ryan, who was shooting 35.7% from deep, hit just 1/6 three-pointers. Joe Toye who was shooting 34.4% from deep, hit just 2/6 three-pointers. Not letting either of them get going was huge for the Cats in getting this win.
Excellent defensive performance
Besides the first 6 minutes of the game where Vandy came out hitting everything. Kentucky basically shut them down from that point on.
The Cats scored a season low 56 points tonight, but their defense was good enough to make it where 56 was enough to get the win.
If this team continues to play defense like this, they will be fine because the offense will come. I honestly believe that Vandy playing zone was the biggest factor in the way Kentucky’s offense looked and Cal will get to work on the zone offense for the future.
The Cats will now make another road trip as they head to Georgia to face the Bulldogs. That game will get started at 7:00 pm EST on ESPN Tuesday night.
Now, here are the postgame notes, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Notes
- Kentucky is 12-3 overall, 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference. Vanderbilt is 9-6, 0-3 in the SEC.
- Kentucky leads the series 146-47, including 82-14 in games played in Lexington.
- Tonight’s attendance of 22,504 is a back-to-back season high.
- Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats begin a two-game road swing Tuesday at Georgia. Game time is 7 p.m. and it will be televised on ESPN.
In the First Half
- Kentucky started Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington and Reid Travis for the eighth time this season. UK is now 5-3 with that lineup.
- VU came out hot, hitting 3-pointers on its first three possessions, en route to a 16-4 lead.
- It was the second straight game of an early double-digit deficit, as Texas A&M opened with a 10-0 lead on Tuesday.
- Trailing 22-12 at the 11:26 mark, UK gradually chipped away, tying at 28 with 1:55 to go on a short jumper by Herro.
- Vanderbilt responded with a basket and led 30-28 going into halftime.
In the Second Half
- Kentucky opened the second stanza with the original starting lineup.
- Johnson tied the game at 30 with a pair of foul shots, followed by his 3-pointer from the corner at 18:48 to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game. A well-contested driving layup by Hagans completed the 7-0 run to make it 35-30. UK led the rest of the way.
- Leading 45-42 with 8:35 remaining in the game, UK held Vanderbilt without a basket for more than five minutes. The Wildcats stretched the lead to 11 at 54-43 and led comfortably the rest of the way.
- UK limited Vanderbilt to 17 second-half points. That’s the lowest point total by a UK opponent since the Wildcats held Tennessee to 17 second-half points on Feb. 17, 2015.
- After Vanderbilt’s hot start – 22 points in the first 8:34 of the game – Kentucky limited the visitors to 25 points in the last 31:26 of the game.
- During the last 31 minutes, VU made only 9 of 36 shots from the field.
- Vanderbilt totaled 47 points. UK is 66-0 under Coach John Calipari when keeping the opponent at 55 points or less, including 2-0 this season.
- Vanderbilt shot only 36.2 percent from the field. UK is 169-15 (.918) under Calipari when keeping the opponent at 40 percent or less, including 5-0 this season.
- UK shot 50 percent from the field tonight. It is UK’s seventh game of the season at 50 percent or better, all wins.
- UK dominated around the basket tonight, winning rebounding 38-21 and points in the paint 32-16.
- Statistical oddity: although UK committed 15 turnovers and VU had only 12, it was the Wildcats who took advantage of the miscues and won points off turnovers by a 16-4 margin.
- UK improved to 245-5 (.980) under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points at any point in the game.
- UK has won 13 in a row at Rupp Arena, dating back to last season.
- Ashton Hagans continued his offensive surge, tying for game-high honors with 15 points. He made seven of nine shots from the field.
- This is his fourth straight double-figure game, and he is averaging 14 points per game during that span.
- Hagans also had game-highs with four assists and three steals. He has at least three thefts in five straight games. No Wildcat has done that through at least 1996-97.
- Keldon Johnson equaled Hagans with a game-best 15 points, making 6 of 8 shots from the field.
- Johnson scored the first five points of the second half, putting UK ahead for good.
- Immanuel Quickley notched 12 points, his second straight game in double figures and fifth of the season.
- He made a season-best three 3-point shots and has made two or more 3-pointers in three straight games.
- Reid Travis tied season highs with 12 rebounds and two blocked shots, adding five points.
- Calipari is now 287-67 at UK.
- Calipari has a 732-207 all-time on-court record.
- He is now 10 wins away from tying Joe B. Hall for the second-most victories by a UK head coach in program history.