Vanderbilt improved to 6-4 in the SEC and stayed within striking distance of 9-2 Florida with a huge win Saturday over #18 Kentucky. The Commodores had waffled around the middle of the SEC and the tail end of the NCAA's Top 25 until a big three-game winning streak solidified their position as one of the country's best teams. Balanced performances and an emerging sense of composure lifted Vandy over the Wildcats on Saturday, as John Calipari's young team couldn't respond to the clutch play from players like John Jenkins and Steve Tchiengang.
The win should help erase some of the lingering doubts about the Commodores, though they'll still need to prove that they can win important league games on the road. Vanderbilt is just 1-3 outside of Nashville in the SEC this year, with their only victory coming against 157th ranked Mississippi State. Though their three losses have come either in overtime or in the game's final seconds, it still reflects negatively upon a team that has traditionally struggled away from Memorial Gym in big games.
Vandy will have the opportunity to prove their worth Wednesday in Athens when they take on a solid Georgia team. The Bulldogs have been beatable throughout the season, but all seven of their losses have come against Top 50 teams, and two of their three home defeats came either in overtime (vs. Florida) or on the game's final play (vs. Tennessee). As a result, all signs indicate another barn-burner for the Commodores - fans should adjust their alcohol intake accordingly.
Before we look ahead to the ulcer-inducing games that lie ahead this week, let's head back to the happy meadow of Vanderbilt's win over UK:
1. John Jenkins gets to sit up front, because he's a good guy at sports. Not much I can add after Saturday's dagger-fied performance, so here's some random Twitter updates from some random strangers mentioning Jenkins's monster Saturday.
John Jenkins or Steph Curry ??
Oh. My. John. Jenkins. #omjj
Wow, Jordan Taylor doing a pretty good John Jenkins impersonation right now.
and my personal favorites:
You know what John Jenkins? FUCK you and FUCK your family. Come to Rupp and see of you dont get tore a new ass hole. #CATS
Fuck john jenkins
Vuck Fanderbilt and their crybaby fanbase. And fuck John Jacob Jenkins Heimer Schmidt.
2. How about that bench? One of Vanderbilt's biggest advantages over Kentucky was their depth, and it shone through on Saturday. Steve Tchiengang, Rod Odom, and even Kyle Fuller (!) put together this team's strongest bench performance to date. The three rotation players were a combined +19 on the day, while the team's starters posted a -9. It was their play that vaulted the Commodores into the lead late in the first half and it would be tough to imagine a Vandy win without their performance on Saturday. Fun fact: at 44.7%, Steve Tchiengang is this team's leading three-point shooter.
3. 15 assists, 10 turnovers, and 20-23 from the free throw line. These are the numbers that won this game more than Jenkins's 32 points. Vanderbilt played the composed game that they needed to in order to beat a talented team. Though UK was slightly more active on the boards, the Commodores limited Kentucky's opportunities and protected the ball. Simply put, this team played smart, and while mistakes still happened, they weren't crippling like they had been in games against South Carolina and Tennessee.
This team has struggled with their passing for big parts of the early conference schedule. Saturday's performance suggests that they can move the ball around in the halfcourt set even without Andre Walker in the game.