Kentucky Visits Vanderbilt on Saturday
On Jan. 23, Kentucky handed Vanderbilt a lopsided loss.
The Wildcats were dominant in a matchup between the teams predicted to top the Southeastern Conference in the preseason, leading by as many as 23 points in a 76-57 win.
|Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt|
|Sat., Feb. 27 - 4 p.m. ET
Game Notes: UK | VU
Digital Gameday Program
|UK||2015-16 Team Stats||VU|
A little more than a month later, UK and Vandy will be opponents once again. The circumstances, however, are much different.
For starters, the setting has changed. Rather than enjoying the advantage of playing on the home court where they haven’t yet lost this season, the Cats will be playing in Memorial Gymnasium.
“It’s always a hard game up there,” John Calipari said. “It’s a hard game.”
Not only are the Commodores a talented team with two projected first-round NBA Draft picks, they play in one of basketball’s most unique venues. As SEC fans know well, Memorial features baseline benches, putting the team out of earshot of its head coach for long stretches.
Fortunately for the Cats (21-7, 11-4 SEC), they’ll have a coach on the floor in Tyler Ulis when they play in Nashville at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
“We’ll roll with it,” Jamal Murray said. “What happens happens. We got great guards. Tyler, he’ll get us organized on the other end of the court. But we’ll be fine. It’s a different court.”
The Commodores (17-11, 9-6 SEC) also happen to be playing better basketball than the last time the Cats saw them.
“They’re really rebounding the ball,” Calipari said. “They’re scoring the ball around the basket. (Damian) Jones is really doing well. They’re playing a little bigger at guard. They’re defending.”
Vanderbilt has won four of five games entering the matchup. Each victory has come by 13 points or more and the Commodores had a double-lead with less than 10 minutes remaining in the lone loss, which came against a rapidly improving Mississippi State team.
Vandy’s surge – which includes a drubbing of Florida on the road in its last game – has come at the right time. The Commodores are perched perilously on the bubble, eager to live up to their lofty preseason expectations and deliver an NCAA Tournament berth.
The urgency might have increased for Vandy since the first game against UK, but the Cats don’t expect that to cause much of a difference.
“I don’t think it matters to us,” Calipari said. “Every team we play is like, ‘We win this game then we don’t have to win anymore.’ Really? You have 18 games left. So, I don’t think for us it’s every team plays with desperation when they play us. And on the road, it’s them along with a sellout crowd that they haven’t had all year. Or it’s their biggest crowd and all of that stuff.”
The Cats know it’s about matching that intensity.
“We’re used having everybody’s best shot, so it’s nothing different,” Murray said. “We just gotta go in there knowing that the other team’s desperate and they’re focused and you gotta win. We just gotta be ready and have the same anxiousness as them.”
Anxiousness hasn’t been much of a problem for the Cats of late, but fielding a full complement of players has. Just a game before Alex Poythress returned from a knee injury to score 14 points in a win over Alabama on Tuesday, Derek Willis went down with a sprained ankle in a loss at Texas A&M.
With the change, UK has gone from having a player who transformed the team with his outside shooting from the four position to a physical specimen capable of scoring with his back to the basket. In some ways, adjusting to the change summarizes the season for this Kentucky team.
“Normally we have a different team at the beginning of every year,” Calipari said. “We reshuffle the deck and here we go. How's this team play? We've had to reshuffle the deck in season like three times now. Like, OK, how do we play now?
“I'm just trying to make it so these kids are comfortable playing, that it's the best way for them as a team to play. I'm not caring whose idea it is, or 'Cal-ball, it's how we play.' I couldn't care less. I just want them to be in the best position to win the basketball game.”
It’s safe to say Coach Cal has succeeded on that front. And more often than not over the last month, the Cats are taking advantage of being well positioned.
“I'm proud of 'em,” Calipari said. “With what we've been through, and we don't talk about injuries and all that stuff. We just play ballgames.”
Wildcats Bounce Back With Dominating Win over Alabama
Sparked by the return of the Alex Poythress who had missed the last five games, the 16th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats returned to their winning ways with a 78-53 win over visiting Alabama on Tuesday.
Poythress scored 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting in just 17 minutes of action following a two-week absense for a right knee injury. Freshman Jamal Murray scored 23 points to continue his recent surge with seven consecutive outings of 20 or more points. Sophomore Tyler Ulis continued his do-everything approach with 19 points and 10 assists for his team-high sixth double-double of the season. Freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe chipped in with 10 points, while junior Marcus Lee had six points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Kentucky led by as many as 25 in the second half and led for the rest of the game following a four-point spurt from Poythress to make the score 9-7. Kentucky enjoyed runs of 12-1 and 9-1 to open up the large lead late to extend the nation’s second-longest home-court winning streak to 36 games.
• Kentucky has scored at least 76 points in 11 straight regular-season SEC games for the first time since the 1995-96 season (12 straight)
• UK limited Alabama to 53 points. UK is 63-0 under Calipari when keeping the opponent to 55 points or fewer
• Kentucky had 15 assists and a season-low four turnovers. UK has had more assists than turnovers in 11 consecutive SEC games for the first time since 1995-96 (14 consecutive SEC games)
• Murray’s 23 points marked the 18th straight game that a Wildcat has scored at least 20 points, the longest such streak since 1989-90 (21 straight games)
• Murray topped 20 points for the 13th game this season and his seventh game in a row. It’s the longest streak since Jodie Meeks had nine consecutive 20-point games in 2008-09
• With 10 assists, Ulis extended his school-record streak of 21 consecutive games with at least four assists.
• It also marked the fifth time this season Ulis has had at least 10 assists in a game, breaking the school record of four shared by Kyle Macy in 1977-78, Roger Harden in 1985-86 and John Wall in 2009-10
Down The Stetch
With three games remaining in the regular-season for the 2015-16 edition of the Kentucky Wildcats, John Calipari’s squad is right in the hunt for its 47th Southeastern Conference championship. UK currently sits atop the standings by one game.
However, the race is neck-and-neck as we enter the homestretch with seven teams within three games of one another. Here is how Kentucky has fared in similar situations over the last 30 seasons:
• 2012-13: Kentucky finished two games back of Florida. UK went 1-2 over the final three games with the win coming over Florida
• 2009-10: Kentucky won the league by two games over Vanderbilt thanks to a 14-2 overall conference record
• 2007-08: UK tied for second, two games behind Tennessee, going 2-1 over the final three games. The one loss? Tennessee
• 2004-05: UK finished first by two games over three teams with a 2-1 record to end the season
• 2003-04: Mississippi State edged Kentucky by one game despite UK going 6-0 to end the conference season
• 2000-01: Kentucky managed to win the tiebreaker over Florida for the league crown despite going 1-2 over the final three
• 1999-00: Kentucky won the tiebreaker for the league title with three other teams; a 3-0 finish aided the cause
• 1997-98: UK held on to a two-game lead over Ole Miss thanks to a 4-0 run to end the year
• 1996-97: Kentucky finished second by two games to South Carolina which included a loss to the Gamecocks in the final game
• 1994-95: UK edged out two teams by two games behind a five-game winning streak to end the season
• 1993-94: Arkansas won the conference by a two-game margin despite a 5-1 push late by the Wildcats
• 1992-93: Vanderbilt edged the Cats by one game despite a 3-0 mark to finish the year for UK
• 1991-92: Arkansas held on for a one-game lead for the title as a loss to Florida hurt the Cats with two games to go
• 1987-88: A 4-0 record to end the season propeled UK to a two-game lead for the league title