On Saturday, Vanderbilt had one kind of loss: the loss where you piss away a 14-point lead against a beatable opponent because your offense quits functioning. Tuesday night was a bit different than that.
Since John Calipari took over at Kentucky in the 2009-10 season, he’s been running roughshod over most of the SEC... yet, Vanderbilt’s managed to at least not get embarrassed most of the time. The Commodores are now just 4-11 against the Wildcats under Calipari, but nine of those losses have been by single digits, including last night’s. Kentucky’s 2011-12 team was mostly untouchable, but Vanderbilt handed them one of their two losses that season and lost the other two games by 6 and 9 points. The 2014-15 Vanderbilt team came within eight points of that year’s Kentucky team -- at Rupp Arena.
And so it was on Tuesday. Kentucky was (and still is) the #1 team in the country per Ken Pomeroy and won its first three SEC games by 23, 42 (!) and 26 points. Vanderbilt, a team that lost to Middle Tennessee by 23 points a month ago, was down by two points with 18 seconds left in the game.
The Four Factors chart is instructive, too, because this wasn’t just an instance of Vanderbilt having a really hot shooting night or Kentucky having a really poor one. Vanderbilt did have an unusual shooting night in that the Commodores were 17-of-29 inside the arc, but since they shot 8-of-29 on threes that balanced out.
And if Vanderbilt had done better than 23-of-32 at the foul line (which, granted, 72 percent at the line isn’t bad by any stretch), Vanderbilt might have won. Now the question becomes: why in hell can’t the team bring this kind of effort against teams like Bucknell, Minnesota, Middle, and Alabama?
- This was Jeff Roberson’s best game this season, but really the only difference between this and most of the season for Jeff is that he was getting shots to fall. Funny how that changes things.
- That contrasts pretty strongly with Matthew Fisher-Davis, who managed to have a productive night in spite of shooting 4-of-15 from the floor.
- Riley LaChance was attacking the basket last night, which was great to see. There were only two real knocks here: one, he went 5-of-8 at the foul line, and he committed 4 turnovers. But on a night when Vanderbilt as a team only committed 6 turnovers... well, it’s actually kind of hard to complain about that.
- In fact, the absence of turnovers explains how Nolan Cressler and Joe Toye wound up with positive game scores. This was very much a game in which Vanderbilt relied very heavily on its starters (and really only four of the five starters — more on that in a second) with almost nothing off the bench.
- Luke Kornet had a solid game, marred only by him picking up his fourth foul early in the second half. But he never picked up that fifth foul, and he played 32 minutes. If this were Kevin Stallings, Luke would have gone to the bench at about the 16-minute mark and not come back until there were like five minutes left. Oh, and Vanderbilt would probably be down 20 when he came back because...
- Good Lord, Djery Baptiste, how do you pick up four fouls in six minutes? Granted, some of those might have been questionable, but still...
- There’s some degree of irony in the three freshmen had the three worst games against Kentucky. In Payton Willis’s case, it was mostly just fouls; other than that, his game was pretty inoffensive. I briefly remember seeing Clevon Brown on the court, but he’s definitely the odd man out in the eight-man rotation.
- And yeah, Festus Ezeli was slightly further along as a redshirt freshman than Baptiste is right now. But not really by much.
THEM, Saturday night at Memorial Gym at 7:30 PM CT on the SEC Network.