The Kentucky Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in the country right now, and they had a chance to continue that hot streak on the road against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
And they did just that.
Kentucky did not get off to a slow start in this one, as they jumped out to a quick 12-7 lead at the first media timeout, and that lead continued to grow.
Kentucky was out-hustling Vandy while forcing them into bad shots and turnovers, as the Cats forced 14 Vandy turnovers in the first half while only giving it away one of their own.
A layup by Vandy’s Saben Lee with 8:06 left in the first half cut Kentucky’s lead to 22-14.
From that moment on, Kentucky would score 23 points, and a lone Vandy free throw with 1:55 left would be the only other point they would get in the half, as Kentucky took a 30-point lead, 45-15, into the break.
After the break, it was more of the same from the Cats as they were able to keep playing at a high level while getting to play bench players extended minutes which does nothing but help make this team better.
Kentucky was up 57-28 at the first media timeout but Vandy came out hot in the second half as they were shooting 71% early on.
However, Kentucky was up big, and they kept their foot on the pedal and a jumper by Ashton Hagans with 10 minutes remaining made it 68-31.
You know the game is out of hand when ESPN is playing music over the broadcast while the game is going on and the Cats were able to roll to an 87-52 victory.
Thoughts on the game
Pick your poison
It’s crazy how great this Kentucky team can consistently play now with so many guys contributing at vastly different levels each game.
The first half saw Reid Travis not take a single shot and Keldon Johnson not score either, yet the Cats still went into the locker room with a 30-point lead. They would finished with just 12 points and three rebounds in the game, which came after they combined for 33 and 22 against Kansas.
This game saw Tyler Herro step up and score 12 after getting just six against Kansas while finishing with a game-high +/- of 32 vs. the Dores.
The big difference was the bench combining for 30 points after getting zero vs, the Jayhawks. Richards, Baker, Quickley and Montgomery all scored 4+ points.
With so many guys now able to step up and carry the workload, it makes this already-dangerous team even more deadly.
Big minutes for Nick Richards
Cal has said multiple times this season that this team will take the next step once Nick gets going and, you could tell that tonight Cal was trying to get him a lot of minutes to help get his confidence up.
Nick finished with 14 points and four blocks and played very well in the second half as Cal kept running the offense to get him the ball down low and he stepped up.
EJ Montgomery with the long alley oop to Nick Richards for the slam. pic.twitter.com/UmByxMvDAI— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 30, 2019
If Nick can get going and continue to be the rim protector that we have seen the last two games, then this team is a top-3 team in the country.
Coach Cal's reaction to the Nick Richards jump hook. pic.twitter.com/htplX9w8ta— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 30, 2019
PJ Washington is UK’s new best player
The stretch PJ has had the last four games is exactly what we all expected to get from him all season.
This was the fourth-straight game where PJ scored 20+ points, as he finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and two assists. He also shot 3/3 from three-point land.
PJ Washington patiently waits to score a beautiful sweeping left hand hook. pic.twitter.com/a8Hwl6IzfQ— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 30, 2019
It was another dominating performance by PJ, and this team is very scary for opponents when he is playing at such a high level, which has taken this Kentucky team to another level.
This is a dangerously balanced Wildcats team that’s seen Keldon Johnson, Ashton Hagans and Reid Travis taking turns being their best player. Now, it’s PJ who’s carrying Kentucky to title contender status.
PJ Washington is locked in now. pic.twitter.com/TEaGkETC9A— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 30, 2019
Jamarl Baker is getting better each game
We have heard a lot that Baker may be the best shooter on the team. The only problem is, the shots haven’t been falling in the game for him, as he has had a lot of shots go in and back out.
However, in this one Baker had two open looks from deep and he knocked them both down.
But that isn’t all he did.
Jemarl Baker's shot is as wet as water. pic.twitter.com/pqgI1AvKsZ— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 30, 2019
He played very solid defense the entire time he was on the floor and he made some beautiful passes inside that set up easy baskets.
Between Baker and Immanuel Quickley, Kentucky needs one of them to play well off the bench to win big in most cases. When they both play well, blowouts like this happen.
Kentucky took care of the ball
At times this season, Kentucky has been very turnover prone, which was arguably the biggest thing they needed to fix. But in this one, they did an excellent job of taking care of the ball, as they only coughed it up seven times, and six of those came in the second half with the game well at hand.
When Kentucky is taking care of the ball and forcing teams into 20 turnovers, it is nearly impossible to beat them, and it showed on the scoreboard.
Hagans becoming an elite passer
While Kentucky has been improving on turnovers, Ashton Hagans has been excelling at running the offense and putting him teammates in great position to succeed. He racked up eight assists in Nashville, He now has 25 assists over his last three games, an average of 8.3 per game.
Hagans was getting a respectable 4.1 per game coming into tonight, but he didn’t even take complete control of the point guard spot until mid-December. He continues to get more comfortable in his role, and with his great defense, he’s becoming one of the best overall point guard in college basketball.
Ashton Hagans steal and coast to coast finish. pic.twitter.com/HD5qI866FY— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 30, 2019
This team is having fun
Its one thing to dominate a game like the Cats did tonight but its another when the team is celebrating each other’s success.
As the game was coming to an end, Nick Richards caught two lobs and threw them down on the Vandy defender and the Kentucky bench jumped up with excitement celebrating the success of their brother.
Also, throughout the game players were smiling on the floor and celebrating one another. That is a good sign and will do nothing but bring them closer together as a team.
Mood pic.twitter.com/XVGtgZ3WsO— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 30, 2019
Kentucky will be in action again Saturday as they make another road trip to face the Florida Gators and that game will tip at 4:00 pm EST on ESPN.
Now, here are the postgame notes, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Notes
· Kentucky extended its winning streak to seven in a row and six straight in league play since losing the opener. The Wildcats are now 17-3 overall and 6-1 in the Southeastern Conference. Vanderbilt falls to 9-11, 0-7 in the SEC
· Kentucky leads the series 147-47 and has now won six straight in the series.
o That’s the longest winning streak by either team since the Wildcats won 18 in a row from 1994 to 2002.
· UK improved to 58-29 vs. Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, and has won its last three in Memorial Gymnasium.
· Kentucky’s 35-point victory was its largest vs. Vanderbilt since a 106-44 victory on March 5, 2003.
· It was UK’s biggest victory in Nashville since winning by 39, 120-81 on Feb. 7, 1996.
o It’s Kentucky’s second-largest margin of victory in Nashville in the series’ history.
· Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats will remain on the road and visit Florida on Saturday. Game time is 4 p.m. and it will be televised on ESPN.
o It’s the first of two matchups between UK and Florida.
In the First Half
· Kentucky started Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington and Reid Travis for the 13th time this season. UK is now 10-3 with that lineup.
· After a slow-paced game in the first meeting in Lexington, the Wildcats were pushing the pace early in this one. Kentucky took 12 shots by the first timeout, making six of them. Washington had six early points.
· Leading 12-10 with 13:51 left in the half, UK took full control of the game with a dominating 33-5 run to close the opening stanza.
o The overall run included several “smaller” runs. The first was a 14-0 stretch highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers by Jemarl Baker Jr. and Hagans and back-to-back buckets by Herro.
o UK also went on a 9-0 run over the final 1:43 of the half, which included six straight points from Washington.
· Vanderbilt went 6:09 without a point until Clevon Brown hit a free throw with 1:55 left in the half.
· Kentucky held Vanderbilt without a field goal for the final 8:04 of the half.
· UK limited Vanderbilt to just 5 of 20 from the floor with 14 turnovers.
o Vanderbilt’s 15 first-half points were the fewest UK has given up in a half since holding UCLA to just seven in the first half on Dec. 20, 2014.
o The five field goals are tied for the fewest UK has allowed in a half this season.
o The 14 turnovers are the most Kentucky has forced in a half since turning Texas A&M over 15 times on Jan. 3, 2017.
· After missing all eight of its 3-point attempts in the first half vs. Kansas, Kentucky hit 5 of 10 Tuesday’s first half, including two by Baker.
· Coming off back-to-back 20-point games last week, Washington had a monster first half with 18 points and 10 rebounds for his team-leading sixth double-double.
· UK led 45-15 at halftime.
o The Wildcats’ 30-point halftime lead was its largest at intermission since leading UCLA by 34 (41-7) on Dec. 20, 2014, in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.
In the Second Half
· The original starting five of Hagans, Herro, Johnson, Washington and Travis started the second half.
· Vanderbilt made a layup at the 18:49 mark, meaning Kentucky held Vanderbilt without a field goal for a total of 9:15 of game time going back to the first half.
· UK was 5 of 7 from behind the arc in the second half.
· Nick Richards scored 11 points and blocked three shots in the second half.
· The victory was UK’s largest road win of the John Calipari era. The previous mark was 34 at South Carolina in 2012.
o It tied for Kentucky’s fourth biggest margin of victory in SEC play during the Calipari era.
· Vanderbilt scored 52 points. UK is a perfect 69-0 under Calipari when keeping the opponent to 55 points or less, including 5-0 this season. The Wildcats are also 164-7 when limited the opponent to 63 points or less under Calipari.
· The Commodores shot only 37 percent from the field. UK is 173-15 under Calipari when keeping the opponent at 40 percent or less, including 8-0 this season.
o UK has held five of its last six opponents to 40 percent or less.
· Kentucky dominated in the paint again with a 32-12 points in the paint advantage. UK is now 15-2 this season when scoring more in the lane.
· During the current seven-game winning streak UK has …
o Held opponents to 60.0 points per game.
o Limited opponents to 37.9 percent from the field.
o Limited opponents to 31.9 percent from 3-point range.
· Kentucky is now 236-40 vs. unranked competition under Calipari.
· UK improved to 250-5 (.980) under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points at any point in the game.
· UK hit 10 3-pointers tonight, tied for the second most of the season.
· PJ Washington continued the best stretch of his career with 26 points and 12 rebounds for his second straight double-double.
· He has three straight 20-point games for the first time in his career.
· He’s the first player with back-to-back 20-10 games since Julius Randle did it three times Nov. 8-12, 2013.
· He now has a team-best six double-doubles.
· He’s averaging 22.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and two 3-pointers a game during this three-game streak. He’s shooting 53.2 percent from the floor and 50.0 percent from behind the arc.
· He had 18 points and 10 rebounds by halftime.
· Nick Richards had a solid second half and finished with a season-high 14 points and four blocks.
· He scored 11 points and blocked three shots in the second half.
· It’s his team-leading fifth game with three or more blocks.
· He’s blocked nine shots in a combined 23 minutes over the last two games.
· Tyler Herro added 12 points and three steals.
· It’s his 15th double-figure scoring game of the season, behind only Keldon Johnson.
· Keldon Johnson scored all 11 of his points in the second half.
· He knocked down three 3-pointers for the second game in a row and fourth time overall.
· He’s scored in double figures in a team-best 16 games.
· Ashton Hagans had another solid all-around game with seven points, six rebounds and team-high eight assists.
· He’s dished out eight or more assists in three straight games and six or more in four straight.
· Calipari is now 292-67 at UK.
· Calipari has a 737-207 all-time on-court record.
· He is now five wins away from tying Joe B. Hall for the second-most victories by a UK head coach in program history.
· Calipari improved to 17-4 vs. Vanderbilt.