The Kentucky Wildcats beat the Vanderbilt Commodores on Friday night in Tampa by a score of 77-71.
The Cats got off to a fast start, the lead didn't last long. Despite jumping out to a 7-2 lead, Vandy came roaring back to take an 11-7 lead. UK then went on a 12-0 run to take 19-11 lead, but again, Vandy bounced back. Kentucky led just 37-33 at the half.
After the break, Vandy came out firing and UK seemingly had no answer. However, the Cats started putting things together and the ‘Dores fell apart. As soon as UK started going on a run, Jerry Stackhouse lost his mind, bumped a referee and received a technical foul as UK went on a 15-1 run to take and extend its lead.
It was close in the end, but UK pulled out a big win to keep its 1 seed hopes alive.
Now, it’s time for revenge, as the Cats will take on the Tennessee Volunteers in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament.
Offense was rolling
Kentucky basically scored at will in this game. They shot over 50% from the field in the first half and while they slowed down in the second half, overall it was a great offensive showing.
The biggest part of the offense was Sahvir Wheeler spreading the ball around. Kellan Grady couldn't get his shot to fall, but Oscar Tshiebwe did Oscar Tshiebwe things. Davion Mintz had a solid game off the bench. TyTy Washington missed a few bunnies, but he had a big game overall with a team-high 25 points that Kentucky needed every bit of to win this game.
Kentucky wasn’t perfect, but they scored well and efficiently.
Toppin provided a spark
Jacob Toppin has been wildly inconsistent this season, but there’s no doubt when he’s on, he’s the best option at the four and off the bench. He was light years ahead of Keion Brooks in this game and Calipari gave him a long leash.
Toppin air-balled a three-pointer, but after that, he was rock solid. Brooks struggled all game with Vandy’s physicality, which has been a common theme this year, and Toppin stepped up with three blocks on top of his scoring.
There's no doubt that Toppin’s ceiling is higher than Brooks’, but consistency has been an issue for both players. This game was Toppin’s.
Path to 1 Seed
There’s no question this matchup with Vandy became a very big game for the Wildcats, if for no other reason than a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament was at stake.
After Baylor lost to Oklahoma on Thursday and Auburn fell to Texas A&M on Friday, Kentucky was gifted with a path to a top seed in the Big Dance, as ESPN bracketology expert Joe Lunardi alluded to.
March 11, 2022
So yeah, while this wasn’t one of Kentucky’s biggest games of the season on paper, a golden opportunity to get a 1 seed made it easily one of the biggest games of the season.
Of course, Kentucky will need to win two more games in Tampa for a 1 seed to be a possibility. But even for top-tier programs in college hoops, a chance to earn a 1 seed in Conference Tournaments Week is something just about anyone would be thrilled with.
Pippen got his wish
Scotty Pippen stated before the game that he wanted to play UK to get revenge. He’s 0-6 versus the Cats in his career, but he’s increased his scoring in every game. He’s scored 12, 13, 18, 21, 32, and 33 in six games against UK.
In this one, Pippen couldn't hit water he fell off a boat. He scored a decent amount of points because he flops every possession and gets to the free throw line, but it was clearly an off game for the SEC’s leading scorer.
Tshiebwe dominates again
Oscar Tshiebwe dominated once again, but it wasn’t exactly how we’re used to. He rebounded, because of course, but he didn't score a ton. What he did was affect the game defensively with five blocked shots while chipping in 12 points and 14 boards.
That was huge because UK struggled defensively overall, but Big O provided huge rim protection. Vandy answered with threes, and UK will take that all day every day. The Wildcats’ National Player of the Year dominated once again—in whatever way he needs to.
Now, let’s celebrate!