Last year UK had some of their toughest games, including a loss in the SEC tournament championship game, against Vanderbilt. Last night was more of the same. The difference is that Vanderbilt lost three players to the NBA and own several conspicuous losses this year, including a loss to Marist by 13.
There were bright spots; Ryan Harrow continued to play well, leading UK(10-4, 1-0) in scoring with 16 points and added 4 rebounds and 4 assists with only 2 turnovers in 36 minutes. Willie Cauley-Stein continues to improve; scoring 7 while leading the team with 8 rebounds and matching Harrow’s 4 assists. Cauley Stein also led the team with 4 blocks, not an insignificant achievement on a team with Nerlens Noel, who had 3 along with 7 rebounds and 13 points, none bigger than a disputed bucket with 18 seconds left that proved to be the game winner. The shot appeared to come after the shot clock expired and put UK up five, but the officials ruled it good and shot clock violations are not reviewable.
There was also cause for concern. UK endured a nearly 8 minute scoreless stretch in the second half which allowed Vanderbilt (6-7, 0-1) to go on an 18-0 run that turned a 16 point deficit into a 2 point lead with 6 minutes left. UK fought back to the lead, culminated by Noel's short jumper, before Vandy hit a 3 and stole the inbounds pass to set up a potential game winner in the final 8 seconds. Kedren Johnson, who led Vandy with 18 points and hit the three to cut the deficit to 2, was unable to connect as time expired.
After the game, John Calipari was very critical of Kyle Wiltjer and Alex Poythress, saying Poythress had been “outworked” by his counterpart and that they (Vanderbilt) went right at Wiltjer every time he was in the game. Wiltjer, who didn’t start and played 14 minutes with 2 points and 3 fouls, was repeatedly beaten on defense, and according to Calipari has to “figure it out or you won’t play”
Kentucky doesn’t have much time to figure it out as they return home for a matchup against 11-3 Texas A&M Saturday in Lexington.
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