Yet another terrifically frustrating home game against a pitiful opponent ends in an enjoyable, whipping second half for Kentucky.
Lucky they have the fans, is all I’ll say. After Vanderbilt raced to its first halftime lead of the decade, Rupp stood and quite literally willed their kids back into the game. Sometimes, 20,000 worth of BBN can say “no, you just aren’t scoring on this possession.” Kentucky ruins road foe’s version of that, but its an obsidian lockbox in Lexington.
If this were pickup basketball, Vandy woulda sank their teeth when the Cats were leaking heavy blood a minute into the second half. But Rupp’s parishioners were the ultimate bandaid yet again.
You know how some college freshman figuratively throw up all over themselves after one semester? Never learn where the laundry machine is, eat nothing more culinarily complicated than a bowl of cereal, and spend more time in the bathroom of a frat house than in class. Then they stumble home without self-esteem or a pair of socks. Well, Nick Richards is Kentucky’s parent.
After fouling out of the first half (which is getting two with John Calipari as your head coach), Richards made up for the lost time by recording most of his double-double stat line in the final 20 minutes. And to seal the ball game for good, Nick grabbed four consecutive Vandy misses and even sandwiched a pair of slammed alley-oops in between. It’s textbook Zach-Lavine-ing—or, I mean—stat-padding, but whatever, it kept even the lower level standing on their feet.
He is so tantalizing off the dribble. My anticipation for a Maxey drive matches Real Madrid supporters when Ronaldo starts a free-kick run-up, except Cristiano doesn’t pass. Four or five times vs. Vandy, Maxey scorched his man off the bounce and then slang a bullet into the sideline. Dude, Vanderbilt drew a blueprint on your own bad defense during the whole first half: attack the basket and SHOOT. Maxey would rip a dazzling crossover and then zip the ball ten feet over Keion Brooks’ head—rather than finishing at the rim or quick-shifting into a floater. Cal seemed encouraged postgame (and he did finish with 15 points on efficient shooting) but added that Maxey would be a completely different player a month from now. Yeah, if he learns he’s allowed to shoot vs. non-AP-ranked teams.
Montgomery was named Player of the Game by the John Adams to Big Bertha’s George Washington. Interesting choice, but alright. The big fella made another series of great plays, including a board, bucket and foul with the game in flux midway through the 2nd. Another round of ammunition for my 8,000-word EJ IS ACTUALLY GOOD manifesto. Although I must mention that with Nick out and EJ manning the five, Vanderbilt drunk-figure-eight-ed our half-court sets for dozens of easy looks.
The best version Kentucky features the littlest amount of Hagans’ ball-handling. Should be a fluid open-three and easy-layup generator, headlined by a three-guard French weave surrounding Anthony Davis’ Clark Kent. Maxey murdering in one-on-ones, a seething Immanuel and Hagans as the dealer. Against Vanderbilt, Kentucky’s offense ran like a ‘77 Ford Pinto rather than a Le Mans Champion.
So Hagans hijacked the wheel and provided about five minutes of nitrogen (3-3 shooting, 7 points, 3 assists, 3 TOs out of the gate). Even with a surging Ashton, UK trailed by 7 at halftime. Something has to change at the start, but it is nice to know we’ll have a Hagans takeover if we need, even if erratic at times.
A quiet 3/13 from the field for 11 and 4 boards. Quickley was uncharacteristically off with his jumpers and likewise with his rather poor on ball defense. Oh well. Those guards are actually pretty shifty and get to where they want on the court. Even though Vanderbilt has lost 25 consecutive SEC games, Jerry Stackhouse has to be excited about that backcourt.
“If he starts making threes” is becoming “well, just wait until Greg Oden’s other leg grows another inch!” I know, it’s less than 25 shots sample size says he’s fine, but seriously, the man would demand a regular rotation spot if he struck a hot chord over the next couple games. Otherwise, he’s clearly an intelligent basketball player, will dive on the ground, and possesses a precocious mid-range elegance. Maybe the fourth-highest upside guy on the team pro-wise?
Nick goes to the bench, Nate comes in at the four, Random Nobody lights him up. Uncanny! This time in the form of klutz-footed freshman Dylan Disu—five threes!—and a couple Scottie Pippen Jr. abuses off screens. I’ll stop harping on the defensive issues with Nate eventually—or when he stops getting beat?—and offensively, he was blocked several times (but so was everybody...by a the losingest power conference dynasty ever) but connected on the biggest shot of the night, a straightaway three a few minutes into the second half. One or two (or three if there’s an OT) of those a game can make his play a wash, and I’ll take that from our 4 spot.
Brooks felt ill during the trip to Lubbock, and his just 11 minutes leads me to think he’s still not 100%. Not a lot from him tonight, although his defense is growing more organized and he’s still capable of absolutely skying for a few rebounds, even while under the weather.