The Cats come out scorching as both teams went back and forth for the majority of the first half. Kentucky got contributions from a variety of guys as four guys scored at least seven points. A 7-0 Kentucky run to end the half, along with shooting 55% from the field, led to a 36-27 lead at the break.
After halftime, Kentucky was blistering hot once again as a 12-3 run, which included a 9-0 run, led to a 48-30 lead just four minutes in. After totaling just six assists in the first half, Kentucky surpassed that total by the under 12 TV timeout.
The Cats just didn't let up. This Vanderbilt team wasn't the best team Kentucky’s played this season, but they were playing good basketball coming into this one, and UK just flat-out dominated them.
Great performance! Now, it’s time for the big test!
Next up, the Cats will return to Lexington to take on the reeling Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday night.
Same starting five
Kentucky’s won four straight, so it’s hard to gripe about the starting lineup, but I’m going to beat that dead horse until Antonio Reeves is in it. In this one, Kentucky went with Cason Wallace, CJ Fredrick, Chris Livingston, Jacob Toppin, and Oscar Tshiebwe.
My biggest issue is I really don't see what Livingston brings to the table. He’s not fluid enough to be a three and Calipari refuses to play him at the four (except for spot minutes tonight). He has shot the ball pretty well from deep, albeit in a small sample size, and he does attack the basket, but he isn't the best rebounder, defender, or scorer.
On the other hand, after a somewhat slow start very early in the game, Reeves came in for Livingston and scored seven straight. That really jumpstarted Kentucky’s offense in what led to one of their best first-half performances of the season.
To be fair, the Cats did get off to a rip-roaring start in the second half with Livingston in, but it wasn't really due to his contributions. Maybe, Reeves is better off as a microwave scorer off the bench. He’s playing the majority of the minutes, regardless, but we really won’t know until/unless Cal tries it.
My biggest worry is Kentucky digging itself a hole early in the game and/or in the second half that they aren't able to recover from. Oh well, it’s technically working right now, so....just keep winning!
Toppin and Tshiebwe dominate the glass
We're all used to seeing Tshiebwe dominate the glass, and just the game in general, but Toppin is really coming into his own. After hitting a point against the Missouri Tigers where Toppin looked unplayable, something switched and that man has been on a tear.
He’s finally showing some consistency both in the scoring column—whether that be flashy dunks or that sweet midrange jumper—and on the glass. Toppin ended up with his second double-double in the last three games, which included a 17-point game in between. It was a solid performance from Kentucky’s bouncy veteran.
Meanwhile, Tshiebwe continued to do what he does best. The reigning National Player of the Year was a bit sluggish in the first half, but he awoke in the second half. He was efficient, strong down low against a very physical and underrated Quentin Millora-Brown for the ‘Dores, and, of course, he put up a double-double as well.
Reeves and Fredrick are who we thought they were
Oscar Tshiebwe is Kentucky’s best player, but the Cats will go as far as Reeves and Fredrick take them.
Early in the season, there were legitimate concerns about both players’ respective abilities, as both struggled with defense, consistency, and, surprisingly, knocking down threes. People started to question whether the injuries had caught up to Fredrick and if Reeves was in over his head moving up from Illinois to the greatest college basketball program of all time. It seemed as if we hit rock bottom.
That’s all behind us now.
Both players have become scary scoring threats, especially Reeves, without being liabilities on the defensive end, which plagued them early in the season.
Fredrick is always a threat from deep, but he showed off his high basketball IQ in this game as he unselfishly dished the rock like a point guard. Reeves, on the other hand, continued his incredible hot streak leading the Cats in scoring again. Coming into this one, he had averaged 17 points per game over the last five, including a season-high 23 points on Saturday afternoon.
THIS is Kentucky Basketball. Things are really starting to come together as a monster matchup awaits the Cats Saturday night in Lexington.