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By LARRY VAUGHT
There is no guarantee that Madison Central guard Dominique Hawkins is going to announce Wednesday morning that he will be playing his college basketball at Kentucky. However, it’s hard for me to imagine an 8 a.m. announcement during a school-wide assembly for Hawkins, Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball, to announce he’s going to Western Kentucky, Morehead Sate, South Carolina, Tennessee Tech, Purdue or Murray.
No, all the pieces seem set for Hawkins to pick UK. He’s been patiently waiting for a scholarship offer and my guess is he got one when he returned from spring break. And remember Hawkins has been open about UK being his “dream school” and the Cats easily have room for him on next year’s roster even if Andrew Wiggins decides he wants to be a Cat, too.
Hawkins, who will play in the Ohio-Kentucky All-Star Game this weekend and the Derby Classic April 19, also could fill a need for UK. The Cats have twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison coming to likely start in the backcourt, but John Calipari needs depth. Ryan Harrow is transferring and Archie Goodwin going to the NBA. That leaves Jarrod Polson not only to back up the Harrisons, but to practice against them. Hawkins would give UK a backup at either guard and a tough, tough practice player to challenge the Harrisons. Hawkins backs down from no one and could be a perfect addition to this McDonald’s All-American recruiting class.
This could be the day that Kentucky’s 2013-14 basketball roster starts taking a more definite shape. From the time UK’s season ended with a NIT loss at Robert Morris, speculation has been rampant about who will — and who will not — be on John Calipari’s team next season.
Calipari has seven incoming freshmen — Aaron and Andrew Harrison, James Young, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis, Dakari Johnson and Julius Randle — that will definitely be on the roster. That leaves six more available scholarships.
It seems obvious that Madison Central’s Dominique Hawkins, who led Central to the state title and could well be named Mr. Basketball today, would commit if given a scholarship offer from UK. Calipari watched him three times at the state tourney and made a trip to Richmond to see him this week. Hawkins has called UK his dream school and has been told he’ll learn today if UK has a scholarship for him — and remember he plays with the toughness that Calipari felt his team lacked this year.
Calipari also made a trip to Huntington, W.Va., Thursday to see Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s top-ranked prep player who has been compared to players like LeBron James and John Wall at the same age. He’s down to UK, North Carolina, Florida State and Kansas.
If Hawkins gets a scholarship offer, it could mean that Wiggins is not coming to UK. If Hawkins doesn’t get an offer, it could mean Wiggins has let Calipari know he’s not coming. But what if Calipari offers Hawkins and also maybe knows he is going to land Wiggins? That would give UK nine freshmen — all on scholarship — and leave just four available scholarships.
It’s a given Nerlens Noel will opt for the NBA draft despite his season-ending knee injury and mid-March knee surgery. He’s still going to be at least a top five pick and that’s too much money to ignore.
Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer has been the subject of transfer rumors after not playing as well this season as fans hoped or he hoped. However, several sources close to the team said Wiltjer has made no mention of transferring and another source who knows the family says his parents have not mentioned anything about a transfer, either.
Freshmen Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin have all been projected as first-round draft picks on some mock drafts. However, only Cauley-Stein seems assured of going that high — and even analysts like Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com insist he could help himself by returning to school.
If all three come back and Wiltjer stays, that’s four scholarship to go with the seven known freshmen. That makes 11 scholarships for next year out of the 13 available.
Point guard Ryan Harrow, who started his career at North Carolina State, had a horrible end to the season. He lacked the toughness Calipari wanted from his point guard. Will he be back? My instinct says no.
What about Jarrod Polson? The junior originally came to UK as a walk-on player, but he’s been on scholarship for three seasons. He was a productive player and reliable for relief that Harrow that was needed far more often than Calipari ever imagined.
“He wants to come back. He would love to finish his career as a Wildcat,” George Polson, the player’s father, said.
However, sources at UK seem to indicate that the odds of him retaining a scholarship offer could be slim — another sign that Hawkins and/or Wiggins will be joining the roster. Apparently he’s not had a meeting with Calipari yet about his future and maybe he would rethink his position about staying on the team as a walk-on.
Then there’s Jon Hood. He has a redshirt year left and, like Polson, would like to return. Both are graduating in May and both turned down a chance to go through UK’s Senior Day in March because they want to be back. However, sources at UK again have indicate there is a strong chance there might not be room for Hood on the roster.
Perhaps Hood and/or Polson could be graduate assistant coaches. Perhaps both will become walk-ons. Perhaps Wiggins and/or Hawkins won’t pick UK and one or two other players could enter the draft along with Noel.
But Kentucky’s young team could use some veteran leadership next season. Don’t underestimate the value of having a Polson and/or Hood to tell teammates where classes are, what to do on campus, where to eat, where to shop, how to interact with fans, who to trust, who to avoid. Seems insignificant in some ways, but remember Calipari had players like Patrick Patterson, Ramon Harris, Josh Harrellson and Darius Miller around before to help talented freshmen.
So who will be on the roster?
Givens — Lee, Harrison twins, Johnson, Young, Willis, Randle, Wiltjer.
Likely — Poythress, Goodwin.
Maybe — Cauley-Stein, Hawkins, Wiggins.
Want to be — Polson, Hood.
That’s 15 — and two over the scholarship limit. Cauley-Stein to the NBA could free one scholarship. Hood as a graduate assistant could free another scholarship. Or maybe Calipari doesn’t offer Hawkins or Wiggins picks North Carolina.
Just remember the numbers always work out and starting today we could find out just what that is going to mean this year.
By LARRY VAUGHT
With speculation swirling about who will or will not be back on the Kentucky basketball team next year, ESPN’s Andy Katz recently projected what John Calipari’s 2013-14 roster would be.
“If everyone returns and no one else arrives (see: Andrew Wiggins), then Kentucky is set at 13 (scholarships). There are six returning players on scholarship in Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, Ryan Harrow, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer. There are seven incoming freshmen — five are signed in Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis — and two are committed in Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson,” Katz wrote on ESPN.com.
“The odds of Noel returning are slim, even with the torn ACL, freeing up at least one scholarship. There is always the chance someone else will transfer or decide to declare for the draft even with the prospects of making a team slim. This could actually work out for the Wildcats if the returning players accept roles and become mentors to the star-studded freshmen as rotation players in a year.”
All that goes along with what Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein said about returning to UK for their sophomore seasons after the Cats lost to Robert Morris in the NIT.
But what about juniors Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson?
Polson came to UK as a walk-on player from West Jessamine. He’s been on scholarship the last two seasons, but even though he’s on track to graduate I don’t think he would have a problem going back to walk-on status to continue to be a part of the team.
Hood? That’s different. He came to UK on scholarship. He’s played in 73 games in three seasons — he was injured during UK’s national title season and redshirted — but has scored just 80 points and grabbed 62 rebounds in his limited playing time. By comparison, Polson had 101 points and 55 rebounds this season.
Still, would UK really yank Hood’s scholarship — every scholarship is technically renewable after one year — just to create roster space?
When a UK fan questioned Katz on Twitter about Hood not being a scholarship player, his reply was, “Reporting what UK says for ’13-14.”
Normally when Katz talks Big Blue, it’s golden because his information likely is coming straight from Calipari. However, this time UK says his information is not accurate.
“We have not announced any roster decisions for next season. Only discussed this year’s roster. Told him Polson and Hood are on track to graduate and neither has made a decision going forward or has it even been discussed with the staff,” said UK executive assistant athletics director DeWayne Peevy when asked about Hood’s status based on what Katz reported.
Hood likely will not play much next season with the recruiting class Calipari is bringing in. He may opt to transfer to another school where he could have a chance to play more since he’ll have his degree and could do that like Julius Mays did this season when he came to UK from Wright State as a fifth-year player and was eligible immediately. Maybe he would agree to stay on the UK roster as a walk-on in hopes of getting another national championship ring.
But here’s hoping he’s not cut. Calipari has done few things wrong since his arrival at UK, and he knows Hood is a fan favorite because he’s an in-state player who grew up loving the Wildcats. He’s always said all the right things during his playing time at UK and done everything right off the court. He was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 2009 and was ranked as the nation’s 40th best high school player that year by Rivals.com. He picked UK over Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia.
Going through Senior Day at UK will be a huge deal to him, and it seems like he’s earned the right to get to do that and be part of the team for one more year if that’s what he wants to do. Calipari talks about running a players’ first program and being the gold standard for college basketball. If that’s right, then Hood deserves to have a chance to be part of the 2013-14 team even if he’s not a future NBA star because a players’ first program does what is fair and best for players.
By Keith Taylor, The Winchester Sun
MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Alex Poythress was just as “shocked” as the rest of Big Blue Nation following Kentucky’s 59-57 loss to Robert Morris in the opening round of the National Invitational Tournament Tuesday night.
“We just couldn’t do it at the end,” the Kentucky freshman said. “It’s real disappointing.”
It was a similar road loss for the Wildcats, who failed to gain traction in games played away from home during most of the season. Kentucky, the top seed on the NIT, won just four games in eight attempts in hostile environments, inducing an 0-3 mark against non-conference foes.
“It was a tough environment and they had a great crowd,” Poythress said. “They were incredible and cheering them on. It was just one of those away environments where (they) were rooting against you. It’s incredibly tough to play on the road. You just don’t realize it’s not a home game. You may have fans, but to the other team, it’s their home game. It’s tough playing in the road. It was a a tough game (Tuesday night) because it was so compact and so close to the floor. It was a tough environment.”
From the beginning, the Wildcats had problems overcoming and overflow crowd of more than 3,500 and found themselves in a hole after the hosts scored the first 10 points of the game. That lead blossomed to as many as 13 points in the second half before the Wildcats battled back to make things interesting down the stretch. The overall environment also was an issue for the Cats down the stretch.
“We just couldn’t capitalize (down the stretch),” he said.
Poythress said the Wildcats had trouble matching Robert Morris’ intensity throughout most of the contest.
“They came out and strong, they came out hitting every shot and came out pumped,” he said. “They came out wanting to win the game. They had a nice crowd and everything, but got us down and we played catch up the rest of the game.”
Poythress, who scored just six points in 27 minutes, said the Cats came in with a “good game plan” and one that he thought was enough to put the Wildcats back over the top.
“To come out on the losing end of this game is really disappointing,” Poythress said. “It’s just frustrating.”
Poythress said the Wildcats had a renewed focus following a 64-48 loss to Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament last Friday in Nashville. The team failed to make the NCAA Tournament field and was denied an opportunity to defend the NCAA title, but Poythress didn’t mind continuing the postseason in the NIT in a season that failed to measure up to last year’s standard.
“I felt like we were ready and I feel like we are ready every game,” he said. “The coaches do a great job of preparing us, but we us players just didn’t execute. It comes down to x’s and o’s and for us, just playing ball, really. Coach (Calipari) is going to help us (and put us in position to win).”
Looking back on the season, Poythress said capitalizing on “on the little things” would have made a difference for a team that failed to live up to last year’s expectations.
“We just had mental lapses and we just had to focus,” he said. “It was tough to follow last year’s team. If you think about it, they were one of the best basketball teams (in history). The had six pros, almost had 40 wins and won a national championship. It’s tough to follow that. But there are high expectations when you come here. People expect you to win and you can’t let them down. We had great potential, but we just didn’t know how to put it all together.”
He added that the team wasn’t lacking in the leadership department.
“We had great leadership in Julius (Mays),” he said. “He was always there from Day 1. We just didn’t follow him. It was kind of our fault.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
MOON, Pa. — Unless you win the national championship like Kentucky did last season, there’s never a perfect way for a team to end a season. However, sometimes there can be a fitting way — and that’s just what happened to Kentucky.
A team that lacked toughness, cohesiveness, playmakers and focus got dominated early, battled back and then made crucial mistakes at the end to fill 59-57 to Robert Morris here Tuesday night in the first round of the NIT.
“They deserved to win. If we had won at the buzzer, it would have been a shame. We didn’t deserve to win,” said Kentucky coach John Calipatria, who said he grew up only about “two 7-irons” away from the campus.
He was right, too. Robert Morris roared out to a 10-0 lead over Kentucky — a team that even Calipari admitted may not have wanted to be playing after falling to Vanderbilt Friday in the SEC Tournament to lose a NCAA Tournament bid on Sunday — in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,444 that had many fans lining up three hours before tip-off to secure the best seats.
Kentucky got back into the game by halftime, but trailed 53-42 before an 11-0 run tied the game with 3 minutes, 15 seconds to play. Kentucky tied the game again at 57-57 with 42.5 seconds left, but with time running out on the shot clock the Colonials’ Mike McFadden got an offensive rebound after a Willie Cauley-Stein block on an inbounds play and was fouled. He hit both free throws with 8.7 seconds to go.
The Cats got an open 3-pointer for Kyle Wiltjer, who had missed his only 3-pointer Tuesday and 19 of his last 22 tries, just before the buzzer. But it missed to touch on a court-storming by the Robert Morris students and a funeral-like procession off the court one last time this season for Kentucky.
“Robert Morris played great,” Calipari said. “They said we could not withstand their physical toughness, so go at them. They played a physical, hard-nosed game. We were down 10-0 and the game was too rough. We had guys that couldn’t play. Just couldn’t put them in. We were trying to win.”
One obviously was point guard Ryan Harrow. He cried after UK’s loss to Vandy and blamed himself for the loss and letting his team down after missing 13 of 15 shots and making four turnovers. He didn’t get to miss that many shots this time because despite two early scores, he played just nine minutes, including just two the second half when Calipari turned the team over to junior Jarrod Polson, who had 10 points, three assists and one rebound. More importantly, he played with some pizzazz that Harrow didn’t.
Calipari said it wasn’t only Harrow that backed down. He recalled early last season when teams tried to play rough with UK before the Cats decided they wanted no part of that.
“Guys said this ain’t happening and negated that and by the end of the year you could not play us physical and tough and win the game,” Calipari said. “We never accepted that was an issue and that we had to change how we played.”
Against Robert Morris, Alex Poythress had six points and two rebounds. Willie Cauley-Stein had nine points, four rebounds and four turnovers. Neither could dominate inside.
Julius Mays, who tried to be UK’s team leader, was 1-for-5 from the field after going 2-for-8 in the Vanderbilt loss. Wiltjer made one of four shots and had no rebounds in 10 minutes.
Archie Goodwin overcame a shaky start to score 18 points and almost give UK the win. He also had seven rebounds, one assist and one steal. He even took a hard shot to the face on a deliberate foul after a steal and made both free throws — he was 8-for-8 at the line — while refusing to back down. But other than Goodwin, Polson and Jon Hood, who had two points and three rebounds in 15 minutes, the fight just was not there.
Yet Calipari insisted he was not relieved to have the season end.
“I wanted to keep coaching them. The reason was I was hoping the light would go on for Alex. The light would go on for Kyle. The light would go on for Archie,” Calipari said. “You don’t know when the light goes on. This was good for them. They needed a game exactly light this to see what they needed and then evaluate where they are. I am tough enough to play college basketball. Maybe I don’t have it.
“We fouled twice in a tie game. Why foul? Why not play disciplined? Well, we have not been disciplined all year. It kind of ended on a note that we have been talking about all year. You can’t win if you play that way.”
Calipari vowed it won’t be that way again. He got caught with little depth, especially after Nerlens Noel went down with a knee injury, and not enough depth. He’s already signed six players for next year and could add another star Wednesday when Julius Randle makes his college choice. Goodwin, Poythress and Cauley-Stein all indicated after this loss they expected to be back next year, too.
“This was humbling. You think you are supposed to win 30 games, win 35 games, get to the Elite Eight, win tournament championships, win the national title. This was a humbling experience, but also a learning experience,” the UK coach said. “I did things I have never done to try and help the team. The things I did to try and save guys, when you have more people they won’t play this much.”
But that’s next year and for now UK can only think about what was supposed to be a rebuilding year that would turn into a NCAA Tournament ready team instead turned into a NIT bust.
WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
MOON, Pa. (AP) – Mike McFadden hit two free throws with 8.7 seconds remaining and Robert Morris shocked defending national champion Kentucky 59-57 in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday night.
The Wildcats decided not to call timeout after the second free throw but Kyle Wiltjer’s 3-pointer before the buzzer bounced harmlessly off the rim, sending hundreds of students onto the court as Robert Morris ruined Kentucky coach John Calipari’s homecoming.
Lucky Jones led the Colonials (24-10) with 15 points but was ejected for a flagrant foul on Archie Goodwin with 3:41 to play. Kentucky, which trailed by 13 in the second half, managed to tie it twice but could never grab the lead.
Goodwin scored 18 points for the Wildcats but couldn’t stop Kentucky’s disappointing season come to a stunning end.
The victory was validation for the Colonials, who won the Northeastern Conference regular season title with ease but were upset in the conference tournament. The loss relegated the school to the NIT, but it hardly felt like a letdown in perhaps the biggest win in the program’s history.
“I know they were disappointed not to get to NCAA tournament. This is a memory they’ll get for rest of their lives.” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said in the giddy aftermath.
Robert Morris will advance to the second round, while Kentucky’s injury-marred underachieving year came to a merciful end. The Wildcats were never the same after center Nerlens Noel went down with a devastating knee injury. Kentucky dropped six of its final 10 games, the last one coming in a somewhat rickety gym in the Pittsburgh suburbs.
The Wildcats let the Colonials race to an early 10-0 lead, only led briefly at the end of the first half and appeared disinterested to spoil the return of a hometown kid made good.
Calipari was born in Pittsburgh, grew up a couple of miles from the Robert Morris campus and played guard at Moon High a couple of 3-pointers away. He returned to Western Pennyslvania to finish up his college playing at Clarion and served as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh in the 1980s before hitting the big-time.
The homecoming, however, was less happy than hostile.
Fans scooped up the 3,500 tickets in a matter of hours on Monday then lined up outside in the blustery March wind well before tipoff of arguably the biggest game in school history. Robert Morris averaged barely 1,000 fans during its 15 home games, yet there were scalpers asking for $75 to get in the door.
Though disappointed in missing the NCAAs, in a way, it may have served as a blessing.
While the NCAAs would have provided Robert Morris with a brief moment in the sun, the NIT gave the school of just over 3,600 undergraduate students an opportunity to host one of college basketball’s big boys on its own turf.
Kentucky earned a top seed in the NIT but was forced to hit the road because Rupp Arena is hosting NCAA games this weekend. Though Calipari warned his team to be ready, the Wildcats hardly looked thrilled to be there, and it showed.
Robert Morris scored the game’s first 10 points while the Wildcats ‚Äî who typically play in front of home crowds in excess of 23,000 ‚Äî stumbled their way through a series of miscues and appeared rattled in a gym with wooden bleachers that swayed underneath the feet of a clamoring student section chanting “Bobby Mo” every chance it could.
Senior Jarrod Polson came off the bench to steady things, and Kentucky recovered to get within 28-27 at the break.
Yet the Colonials never folded, making 8 of 12 shots during one stretch to move back in front 49-36 then holding off a late Kentucky push to send students leaping over tables and onto the floor in a delirious celebration.
KENTUCKY (21-12): Cauley-Stein 4-6 1-4 9, Poythress 3-7 0-0 6, Goodwin 5-8 8-8 18, Harrow 2-3 0-0 5, Mays 1-5 2-2 5, Hood 1-2 0-0 2, Polson 4-5 2-4 10, Wiltjer 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 21-40 13-18 57.
ROBERT MORRIS (24-10): L. Jones 4-5 6-6 15, Johnson 5-11 2-2 14, McFadden 3-4 2-2 8, Williams 2-4 0-0 6, Myers-Pate 3-7 0-0 6, V. Jones 3-7 2-2 8, Appolon 0-1 0-0 0, Anderson 0-5 2-2 2, Hawkins 0-0 0-0 0, Armstrong 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-44 14-14 59.
Halftime_Robert Morris 28-27. 3-Point Goals_Kentucky 2-10 (Harrow 1-2, Mays 1-4, Hood 0-1, Poythress 0-1, Wiltjer 0-2), Robert Morris 5-16 (Williams 2-4, Johnson 2-4, L. Jones 1-2, Appolon 0-1, V. Jones 0-1, Myers-Pate 0-1, Anderson 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Kentucky 25 (Goodwin 7), Robert Morris 19 (Johnson 5). Assists_Kentucky 7 (Polson 3), Robert Morris 10 (V. Jones 5). Total Fouls_Kentucky 17, Robert Morris 20. A_3,444.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.
By LARRY VAUGHT
His first two years at Kentucky, the Wildcats went to the Final Four each time and won the national championship in 2013. Coming off the success he had at West Jessamine High School the last two years of his prep career, UK junior Jarrod Polson expected this to be another banner year.
“This is not what we were expecting,” said Polson Friday after UK lost to Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Not only was it UK’s 11th loss, but the Cats scored a season-low 48 points — a low UK never reached during Billy Gillipsie’s two years and had not reached in seven seasons. Not only that, but it was the fourth straight loss by double digits away from Rupp Arena since center Nerlens Noel went down with a season-ending knee injury.
“No, not at all did I think this could ever happen this year. We thought we had a lot of talent coming in. It’s not like we have not been working hard, either,” Polson said. “We had a great week of practice before this. We definitely didn’t expect this loss. But we can’t do anything about it now but hope for the best.
“I think we have talent. I am probably biased. I think we have the talent to beat any team in the country on a given night. I don’t think talent is necessarily the problem. We just can’t, I guess, stay focused for 40 minutes. There were spurts where we got on runs and then we collapsed on defense and they made a 3 or something like that. When that happens and they get beer muscles, you can’t really stop it.”
Beer muscles are what Kentucky coach John Calipari defined earlier this season as letting an opponent have its way to where it plays better than it can because it gets to believing it can do that.
Kentucky lost its top six players off last year’s championship team, but had the No. 1 recruiting class again and was ranked third in the AP preseason poll, a spot Calipari said immediately was way too high. Still, even then Calipari likely would not have thought this team would lose seven games by double digits and be dominated by mediocre teams the way it was to put UK in the NIT, not the NCAA.
“I definitely think it is frustrating for him (Calipari). You have seen his resume. His teams are always in the (NCAA) tournament and playing their best at this time of year. I guess we are not the best we could be right now. We can’t look back, just forward,” Polson said.
“I don’t really know why we have been so inconsistent. You can blame it on being young or not enough experience or something. We just can’t seem to find what it takes to stay on a run. We beat Florida and then lose again (to Vanderbilt). We have had a lot of those cases and then go right to the next game and take a bad loss. I don’t really know the answer, but we better find it out soon.”
Does the team lack mental toughness, physical toughness or both?
“They (Vanderbilt) out-toughed us physically. They were driving to the basket at will on us and we couldn’t drive on them and when we did we missed layups and open shots,” Polson said. “I think they physically out-toughed us like a lot of teams have. They are mentally tough, too. When they are on a run like that, it is hard to stop them. And when we played bad like that, we had no chance. We don’t seem to be tough enough to snap out of it.”
Polson said having more experienced players like the previous two UK teams had “would probably help” at times.
“Last year had some veterans that played. Kyle (Wiltjer) is really the only one on our team that played at all last year and he didn’t play that many minutes. That might be the case, but you can’t blame it on that now. We played a whole season by now, so we have experience. I don’t know … we just didn’t come out and play to the best of our ability and Vanderbilt did. They just beat us fair and square,” Polson said.
He said rumors about chemistry problems on the team are not true.
“It is a bunch of good guys really. It is not like there are chemistry problems,” Polson said. “We all like each other off the court. It is not really that. I don’t really know what it is. Vandy did a great job. They hit shots tonight and we can’t take that away. They played one of their best games, and we certainly did not. We could have played a lot better than we did. We have to figure it out why we didn’t play our best. And not just this game, but other games.
Polson admitted maybe players kept believing the season would work out because Calipari’s past teams always seemed to figure things out by tournament time.
“We expected that everything we come together. We thought maybe we had turned the corner at Florida when we got that win,” Polson said. “But it has happened a lot in the season where we win one and get a bad loss the next one. I don’t really know what the problem is or I would have helped fixed it. Obviously, none of us know and that’s a problem, too.”
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TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Dai-Jon Parker scored 12 points, and the Vanderbilt Commodores beat Kentucky 64-48 Friday night in a rematch of last year’s Southeastern Conference tournament championship and put a serious dent in the Wildcats’ hopes of at least having a chance to defend their national title.
Kentucky (21-11) came in as a bubble team projected possibly as a play-in candidate after coach John Calipari sent six players to the NBA last summer and tried reloading yet again with another top recruiting class. But Nerlens Noel had surgery earlier this week to fix his torn ACL, and the Wildcats couldn’t match the intensity of the Commodores.
Kevin Bright scored 11 points, Kedren Johnson and Kyle Fuller had 10 apiece. Vanderbilt (16-16) shot 50 percent overall, hitting 8 of 17 3-pointers.
Archie Goodwin led Kentucky with 12 points, and Kyle Wiltjer had 10. Ryan Harrow was 2 of 15 for four points as Kentucky was held to a season-low in points. The Wildcats outrebounded Vandy 32-30 but just couldn’t keep up with how well the Commodores shot the ball.
The Commodores also lost their top six players off the team that won the school’s first tourney title in 61 years with three also in the NBA. Their growing pains have been such that winning is the only way to keep playing now.
They came out and hit 18 of their first 27 shots, including their first five of the second half, in building a 48-27 lead. Kentucky clawed back with 10 straight points, the last a high-flying dunk by Goodwin to pull within 48-37 with 12:43 to go. Then the Wildcats went cold, not hitting another field goal until Alex Poythress’ layup with 7:31 remaining made it 53-41 because Vandy suddenly couldn’t hit after a Kevin Bright 3-pointer with 11:22 left.
Johnson hit two free throws followed by a 3-pointer from Sheldon Jeter to push the lead back to 17 with 6:00 left, and Kentucky didn’t threaten again. Vandy coach Kevin Stallings was able to pull his starters in the final minute for an ovation.
Kentucky swept Vanderbilt in the regular season, but the Wildcats won both games by a combined six points. The Commodores weren’t happy about a 60-58 loss Jan. 10 at Memorial Gym where officials missed a late shot clock violation on a key bucket by Noel.
Even though this game is only a couple miles away from Vanderbilt’s campus, Wildcats’ fans turned Bridgstone Arena into Rupp South filled with blue from the court up to the rafters.
The atmosphere only seemed to rev up the Commodores.
Kentucky led twice, the last on a reverse layup by Goodwin at 6-5. Shelby Moats hit a 3 from the top of the key for Vandy, then Willie Cauley-Stein dunked to tie it up at 8. Odom scored on a layup putting Vandy up 10-8 with 12:42 to go. Kentucky got within two three times, the last at 18-16 with 6:22 to go on a layup by Harrow on his lone bucket of the half as he missed eight shots.
Vanderbilt finished the half on a 20-7 run as the Commodores kept tipping away passes and pushing the Wildcats out away from the basket. When they had the ball, the Commodores knocked down shot after shot. Cauley-Stein picked up his second personal with 4:53 and went to the bench. Vanderbilt scored 16 of the next 23 points.
Moats capped the half as he hit a long jumper in the final seconds for a 37-23 lead before going to the bench for a chest bump with Fuller.
VANDERBILT (16-16): Odom 3-7 2-2 9, Johnson 3-9 4-4 10, Bright 4-6 0-0 11, Parker 5-8 0-0 12, Henderson 1-4 0-1 2, Watkins 0-0 0-0 0, Fuller 4-6 2-2 10, Josephs 0-0 0-0 0, Astroth 0-0 0-0 0, Jeter 1-3 0-0 3, Moats 2-3 2-2 7, Siakam 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-46 10-11 64.
KENTUCKY (21-11): Goodwin 5-10 2-5 12, Harrow 2-15 0-0 4, Cauley-Stein 2-6 3-5 7, Poythress 2-3 1-3 6, Mays 2-8 0-0 6, Hood 1-3 0-0 3, Polson 0-2 0-0 0, Wiltjer 4-5 2-3 10. Totals 18-52 8-16 48.
Halftime_Vanderbilt 37-23. 3-Point Goals_Vanderbilt 8-17 (Bright 3-5, Parker 2-3, Moats 1-1, Odom 1-1, Jeter 1-3, Fuller 0-1, Johnson 0-3), Kentucky 4-14 (Mays 2-7, Poythress 1-1, Hood 1-3, Goodwin 0-1, Wiltjer 0-1, Harrow 0-1). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Vanderbilt 30 (Odom, Parker 6), Kentucky 32 (Cauley-Stein 9). Assists_Vanderbilt 9 (Johnson 3), Kentucky 6 (Mays 3). Total Fouls_Vanderbilt 16, Kentucky 16. A_NA.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.