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Kentucky won but will the win at Vanderbilt hurt the Cats more than it will help


NASHVILLE — Sometimes there are losses that can help a team. Other times there can be a win that might actually hurt a team.

Kentucky may well have had one of those deflating wins here Thursday night when it blew a 16-point lead with a nine-minute scoring drought in the second half before rallying to beat Vanderbilt 60-58 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.

Kentucky needed a gift score from Nerlens Noel after he clearly put up a shot after the 35-second shot clock expired and a last-second miss on a 3-pointer by Vanderbilt to escape after leading 47-31 with 13 minutes, 49 seconds to play. Kentucky coach John Calipari knew his team was lucky, but try to put on his happy face after the game.

“I am happy we won. I have been doing this 20-some years. When we win, I am happy. When we lose, I am devastated,” he said.

This time no one could blame him for feeling devastated by the victory. Remember it seemed like UK had turned the corner when it rallied in the second half before losing by three points at No. 4 Louisville and then dismantled Eastern Michigan last week. For 26 minutes, that improved play continued as UK rolled to a 47-31 lead.

However, Vanderbilt’s zone defense got a bit more aggressive, UK missed 12 straight shots and suddenly the Commodores went from not making shots to hitting shots. The Commodores went on an 18-0 run in a 7:40 span. When Vanderbilt pushed, UK didn’t push back. When the Commodores got rough, UK went soft.

“They just started playing tougher than we were,” UK point guard Ryan Harrow, who hit a 3-pointer to end Kentucky’s nine-minute stretch without a basket to give the Cats a 51-49 lead, said. “I think they started playing more physical than us. They got on a little run and kept playing physical and kept attacking one man (Kyle Wiltjer) and we were not rotating back.”

What happened to the offense that shot 57.7 percent (15-for-26) from the field in the first half and then couldn’t make a shot against the zone?

“I think a lot of the plays Nerlens (Noel) didn’t know which way to go and which play we were running because it was so loud and we could not all it out,” Harrow, who had four assists, said. “That was the biggest thing. We didn’t get it into the middle. This was our first SEC road game. Even though it was an ugly win, at least we came out with the win.”

True. Perhaps some inspiration should be taken from the last few minutes after Vanderbilt took the lead and Harrow hit a 3-pointer, Alex Poythress made two free throws, Noel scored twice and Kyle Wiltjer hit a short jumper to break a 54-54 tie.

However, it’s a lot easier to worry a lot more about what Calipari’s team is going to do the rest of the season. Remember, Vanderbilt is 6-7 and not the nearly the team it has been the last three years. Here are some big reasons for concern, especially with eight more SEC road games to go along with home games against ranked foes Florida and Missouri:

— Calipari blasted Wiltjer for his lack of defense. He said 14 of Vandy’s 24 first-half points came off Wiltjer and that he either has to figure out how to play better defense or quit playing because teams will keep attacking him.

— Poythress showed no signs of benefitting from his one-on-one work with Calipari the last few weeks. He had four turnovers — three came on charges — and just seven points and five rebounds. He managed two offensive boards but Calipari said he gave up five offensive boards to Vanderbilt.

“It’s very clear with Alex. There’s nothing else he can do. Either change or think you are okay. That kid outworked him. Ran the court harder. Went after loose balls harder,” Calipari said. “Can’t let that happen. Not acceptable for you. When he gets it and figures it out … please don’t alibi for him. He just got outworked.”

— Julius Mays went 1-for-5 from 3-point range and all were open looks. In the last six games, he’s 6-for-31 from long range. That makes it a lot easier for Vanderbilt’s zone to be effective since he’s supposed to be a shooter/scorer for UK.

—Vanderbilt outrebounded UK 42-37 and pulled off 20 offensive rebounds to nine for Kentucky. The Commodores did miss 47 shots (they were 23-for-70 from the field), but Vandy is not a big, physical team. “We get outrebounded by team that has gotten outrebounded all year,” Calipari said.

Freshman Willie Cauley-Stein had eight rebounds, seven points, four assists, four blocks and two steals in 30 minutes. But he made no excuses for his team’s play and narrow win after have the game easily in hand.

“They just came out second half playing more smashmouth basketball. They outrebounded us. They came out straight up and pushed us under and we did not respond. We kind of let them push us under (the basket).  We have to change that or every SEC game will be like that,” Cauley-Stein said. “We have been working almost the last two months and kind of reverted back and took a couple of steps back on the offensive glass. It’s nothing we cannot change.

“Coach said it was a learning game. The second half they outworked us. Again, that’s been a big emphasis the last month. Today, myself at times I let the kid (on Vanderbilt) play harder than me.”

Cauley-Stein said players have to “accept the fact you are not doing it and change it” for UK to improve.

That includes one more important thing — learning to listen better to Calipari.

“Coach has been saying all year that the SEC is not a joke. No matter who we play every night will be like this,” Cauley-Stein said. “We were up so much, as a freshman I was thinking, ‘This is not like what Coach has been saying,’ and then we were down and we had to dig down and pull this out.”

Kentucky did that, but whether winning at the end is enough to prepare UK’s wounded pysche after its near collapse remains to be seen starting with Saturday’s home game against Texas A&M.

Permanent link to this article: http://vaughtsviews.com/kentucky-won-but-will-the-win-at-vanderbilt-hurt-the-cats-more-than-it-will-help/


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  1. Walter

    This was a good win. Vanderbilt always plays us tough. After they took the lead we came back and won. Our kids learned a lot this game and I expect it to help them later in the season.


    Well, I’ll start it…1st half was encouraging, however, the 2nd half just about drove me out of my mind! The other UK boards are into name calling and blasting the players…don’t like that at all. These are just freshmen and they don’t need all the negative crap…they’ll hear enough of it from Cal. Just my take…keep you heads up guys!

  3. Gene T

    I only see this win as helping. Hopefully this young team will see you have to come to play every night. Every game is just more experience. They saw that Vandy or any other team will not quit. You just can not go 9 min w/o scoring. Come on CATS! lets put together a full game everytime out. I am still proud of this young team as we will keep getting better.

  4. Jim Boyers

    I felt terrible after that game. I went to bed wondering how a win could be so “disheartening”, but I see I wasn’t alone in that view. If there can ever be such a thing as a “bad” win, this was it.

    I will not blast on any of the players, but there are two of them that shouldn’t even have been on the floor and they know who they are. If someone is unwilling or incapable of giving what is needed, they should be benched.

    As far as Nerlens’ “shot that shouldn’t have been”: If Vandy wants more accurate calls, they should invest in the backboard lights. When that shot clock hits zero, there should be a big ol’ red ring around the goal, just like in EVERY other college gym. Vandy wants to keep the air of “specialness” that their stupid, outdated, piece of crap “arena” has, so they will pay the price on occasion. Catch up with the 90’s and build a new basketball facility you eggheaded idiots.

    I thought this team had rounded the corner, but last night was a huge step back. Hopefully it was just an anomaly, not the norm. I will be holding my breath until Saturday afternoon.

    1. Jim

      No such thing as a bad win, imho. Bad game? Yes. But, they won. I will take an ugly win over a pretty loss, and day of the week. I was not disheartened by the game. I was glad that they pulled out the win, on a night when a talented young team took their foot of the throttle and let an inferior team believe that they could slay the giant.

  5. TheProfessor

    Any SEC win on the road is a good win. This team learned a lot last night. They acted as if they only needed to show up, and they could waltz through the 40 minutes to get the W. Coach Calipari was trying to tell them otherwise, but rather than listen during the second half, they reverted to doing it their ways.

    That won’t work, and today Calipari will have more receptive ears than he has had in a month.

    20 points over TAMU on Saturday.

  6. Jim

    Kentucky got outrebounded and clearly took a beating in the hustle department in the second half. At least they won. There will be a lot more close games. They are a team full of very talented freshmen with very few veterans to carry the load.

    Fans and sports writers shouldn’t expect Poythress to be the answer to the season. Kentucky has three veterans that get playing time. The three veterans consist of a transfer soph, a true soph, and an unheralded grad student. Two of the three are not producing. That is what needs to change. The grad student is as good as he will ever get. That is just who he is. That leaves the true soph as the point of weakness that can be turned around. If the true soph’s weakness is being flat footed on defense, is there a way to coach that out of a kid? Maybe not. That may be who he is, a kid who is unable to move his feet on defense. If that is so, where would that leave the Cats? They will only go as far as they can improve as a whole, with four starting freshmen and a transfer soph.

    At this point, they are who they are. They just have to win, pretty or ugly, dominate or by the skin of their teeth, until the very talented freshmen can evolve into their version of very talented vets, by tourney time.

    1. jwill03

      I agree Jim. I think Cal should protect Kyle by incorprating a zone D. I know he doesn’t like playing a zone but we still need Kyle’s shooting on the offensive end. I think this is not the last of ugly wins we are just going to have to grit and bear it my friend.

  7. grant

    That was an all clanker game. Win is a win , but wow , thank god they don’t get judged for style points – that goes for both teams.

  8. Juan4UK

    Creighton SID talking smack about UK (RPI). https://twitter.com/_robanderson?tw_i=289586875964981248&tw_e=screenname&tw_p=tweetembed

    “Congrats to Kentucky on its second win over a team in the top-215 of the RPI this season! “–Rob Anderson

  9. donv

    If I am a coach I’am playing zone and going after Kyle every play down the court. We got rattled but a win is a win and maybe a wakeup call.

  10. Kokamo Joe

    This was not a good win. Vandy is not a good team and we even needed a bit of help from the refs to beat a bad team. We can spin it anyway that we like but that will not change that UK let a bad team come back on them and Calipari had to blast two of his players. Calipari has no bench, he starts 4 freshmen and he must depend on a rotation of 7 players and two of those players are being called out in a public way.

    The SEC should be a kiddy cat playhouse. After last night, I have to wonder. We need to beat the creampuffs like Vandy and we need to beat them badly. There are only three projected quality wins in SEC play for UK…one game with Missouri and two with Florida and two of them are in Rupp where we seldom lose. Dominate this league and play well in the SEC tournament and the NCAA will grant us a high seed. UK needs a high seed in order to make a showing in the NCAA tournament.

  11. Larry Pup

    UK should have lost this game. We got outplayed and out hustled in the 2nd half. Mark it down, with this team, every SEC game will be a struggle. Vandy’s zone killed us.

  12. Larry T Clemons

    Am I the only one who felt like I was watching a Game in The Twilight Zone ! Ky, looked like a Pro team playing a College team in the first half…Bobby Knight, was complementing The Wildcats, like they were the second coming…Ky was winning big in Memorial Gym at Vandy,,,Coach Knight was even giving props and accolades to Coach Cal ! ” This Must Be An ” Alternate Universe “….Then came the second half. Ky plays flat footed, with heavy legs, Vandy’s Zone was effective due to lack of movement/screens and The Wildcats couldn’t hit an open shot ! Bad free throw shooting, should have cost us the Game, Vandy played that to their advantage…And yes, WE (Ky), won on a loopty doop bad call, ” BUT “, the Refs gave Vandy a ” Make Up Call “, with 6.7 seconds, when under Vandy’s Basket, Mays tried to secure the Ball and Vandy’s Fuller, knocked it out. Granted the bad call to the Wildcats resulted in 2 points and the bad call to Vandy only gave them possession, ‘ Not Points ” ! Wow, one of the strangest Games I can recall in a long Time…Camp Cal, back to running drills…Great (lucky) Win in spite of the Mojo, Wammy, unbelievable atmosphere. Does this mean Coach Bobby Knight Loves Kentucky, ” are you kidding Me ” ! Maybe Bobby Knight selling ALL his Indiana (IU), Championship Rings and Memorabilia cleansed Coach Knight of his Bias Against The Kentucky Wildcat. ” Not ” !

    1. Mike Flannery

      Bobby was under the ESPN microscope for this game, he likes his job and after last year, not even mentioning the name “Kentucky” and saying “that other team from the SEC”, he knew he would be scrutinized in Bristol and did not need any UK fans sending negative feedback to ESPN. I’m sure it was hard for him, but, I thought he did a credible job for the entire game. I know he won’t be doing a game in Lexington this or any other year. He would rather go back to Panama!

  13. Doug Ridley

    I didn’t think they looked too bad except for their offense and defense. Their uniforms looked okay.

  14. Mike Flannery

    Stop and Think about it…….I have seen many veteran UK teams go into Vandy and look worse, this is a first year team still getting it’s roots, when Vandy went into the zone they tightened up, got frazzled and played accordingly. They had enough fortitude to pull it out. They will get better with each trip into an opponents home court. Earlier this year they have looked good going against zones on a few occasions. Poythress wanted to play a good game and really tried to do too much in front of his family and friends. Each step is a learning step and like Adolph used to say, the best thing about freshmen is when they become sophomores… Cal doesn’t have that luxury with the one-and-dones. There was very good teamwork on offense during the first half ( with a few exceptions ). We escaped in the 2nd half….win and move on. It is a “W” in the record and Cal will utilize the 2nd half results accordingly!

    1. Larry T Clemons

      Agreed ! And, I couldn’t believe we were up by 16 At Vandy…

  15. Judi Cole

    Mike, I agree with you about Poythress. He did want to play a good game and maybe the reason he hasn’t been effective lately is the way the plays are set up. He’s going to be great in time if the coaching staff figure out how to get him more involved in the offense.

    1. Mike Flannery

      I would have loved to see him in the middle of that zone early on, maybe he still would have charged..but, he looked real smooth on the turn around jumper he made when posting up in the first half…… Cauley-Stein needs more confidence going to the hoop when he gets it out a little in the middle of the lane. I am sure A&M will shoot a zone at us also…the results will be much better!

  16. LindaS

    Are we expecting too much after the year we had last year? Do we think Cal’s teams are going to be a nano second from perfect every year?
    He has said repeatedly, as he did last year, wait until March, they will be there. This is a very young team, how often do we have to be reminded of that fact?
    I don’t know why his teams can’t play against a zone.

  17. King Ghidora

    I can’t believe no one notices these things. The Cats did exactly the same thing last year. They would build a big first half lead then coast the second half and then hold on to win at the end. It must have happened half a dozen times last year including twice in the tournament. They were tired. They don’t have a deep bench especially with Kyle becoming the target of the opposition offense. That pretty much means he can’t play much at all until he learns to move his feet and that may never happen. They hustled big time in the first half. They never shot well from outside in either half BTW. Then they ran into that zone with no consistent outside shooting at the very time they got winded. Expect to see this often on the road in the SEC. ANY road win in the SEC is a good win IMO.

    Let’s talk about the Baylor game in the tournament last year. The Cats got up 20 by halftime. They won by only 12 and they had to hold off a big rally to do that. The Kansas game the Cats were up 14 at the half and nearly lost their lead. This is a Cal strategy. Remember him saying he pulled the team back too early after a game when they nearly blew a big lead in the tournament last year?

    It’s very hard to go full bore for a whole game when you have a 7 man rotation and the other team is playing 10 guys. Loserville almost did it to UK last year too.

    This loss doesn’t worry me one bit. They held on to win. If you can beat any team on the road in the SEC you have a pretty good team. And if they had been hitting their outside shots the game wouldn’t have been nearly as close. And let’s face it, that gym gives Vandy a 10 point advantage every time the Cats play there. It should be illegal to set the benches up that way.

    1. Larry Pup

      Amen King. All these people who were saying we were gonna blow Vandy away are all upset now. I said going in it would be a tough game. Vandy always is. At Vandy is even worse. This UK team is gonna struggle this year. The hand writing is on the wall. This team is constantly compared to last years National Champs. That’s their fate. The good thing right now is we still won! We are 1-0 in SEC play. GO CATS

  18. texascat

    Vandy might have got that shot clock violation if it weren’t for the crazy location of the clock. It doesn’t bother me to see that crazy configuration (1940 basket supports, benches in the end zone, etc.) cost them.

    1. King Ghidora

      I thought their fans caused the refs not to be able to hear the horn. They can’t watch that light so easy and watch the game too so they count on that horn. And the crowd was so loud they couldn’t hear it. And the replay showed it being very close – too close to overturn a call on the floor. Tough break but who’s to say who would have won if it had been waved off anyway. Them’s the breaks and UK has had them go against them plenty often.

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