Finally. After getting lost too many times to count and wandering through the “service tunnel” to get inside Memorial Gymnasium, Hayley and I are here in a comfy little media suite to watch the 10th ranked Kentucky Wildcats take on the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Cats are getting all too used to life on road, as four of their last six games are away from Memorial Coliseum. UK gutted out a tough road win on Thursday night in a come from behind effort at Arkansas, and Coach Mitchell was thrilled with how his team responded to adverse situations to get a gritty SEC victory. Vandy is a team that started the season in the top 25, and after some iffy loses and bad injuries, the Dores are now 15-7 and 5-4 in conference play. This is a big one for Kentucky (20-3 overall, 8-2) to continue to stay in the hunt for another SEC Championship, as they are currently in a second place tie, looking up at Tennessee and Texas A&M tied for first. You can watch this one on ESPN2, so do it.
#10 Kentucky Wildcats versus Vanderbilt Commodores
FINAL KENTUCKY 75 VANDERBILT 53 Very solid performance on the road by the Wildcats as they pick up another important SEC victory. Kentucky is now 21-3 overall and 9-2 in conference play, still controlling their destiny for another championship. A’dia Mathies had her best performance of the year in terms of point production, as she finished with 28 points on 10 made field goals. The Vandy crowd was as boring as their basketball team was, and Kentucky was without a doubt better/more energetic team today. The Cats dominated the boards, which is a stat that seems to always be directly correlated with a UK win. Off to the weird/hot/poorly placed press conference room we go.
2nd Half 3:58: Texas A&M beat South Carolina by two, so now the Cats are alone in second place in the SEC standings behind the Aggies and the Volunteers by one game. I don’t think I’m alone in saying I would hate to play offense against Kentucky. They literally stay glued to the ball handler allowing zero breathing room to do anything but cower in fear. Scary moment as Bishop and Foggie collided and Foggie was down on the court for a while, but she’s up and on the bench now. Goss has played a lot more like herself the past few games with 13 points today, and that is a great sign for the Cats as they gear up for tournament play soon. Kentucky closing this one out 68-49.
2nd Half 7:49: Kentucky has totally amped up the intensity this half, and the bench/UK fans here are hyped. Mathies is padding her resume for SEC Player of the Year as it seems every shot she throws up is hitting the bottom of the net. She now has a season high 25 points and Vandy has gone from bad to worse. Mathies receives a standing ovation (not from Dores fans) as she goes off the court for a substitution, and Kentucky looks to have this SEC road game firmly in hand. Things are getting hot in the SEC standings, as Texas A&M and South Carolina are currently tied with a minute to go, in a game that greatly impacts Kentucky. Cats winning 64-43.
2nd Half 11:31: The refs have employed some of the “makeup call” strategy to start this half, calling some unfortunate offensive fouls on the Cats enabling Vanderbilt to chip away at the UK lead. Vandy went on a 9-2 run to get within six, but the Cats have used the long ball effectively today as Goss was able to notch her eighth point to stop the Vandy run. Mathies followed that up with another 3-point shot for her 18th point, and the “Go Big Blue” chants have started in Memorial Gym…a great sound to hear. Cats pulling away and lead 48-36.
2nd Half 15:55: After a halftime that included me eating a bowl of pickles, Hayley and I stumbling into a coaches conference, and getting locked out of the media suite, we’re finally back in acting here at Vandy. Biggest news of the first half was A’dia Mathies moving into sole posession of 3rd place on the all-time scoring list in Kentucky school history. She now only trails Victoria Dunlap and Valerie Still. Tiffany Clark is the only offense Vanderbilt has right now, as she has over half of her team’s points. Forgot to mention that today is “Play 4 Kay Day” here in Nashville, to support breast cancer awareness. Vanderbilt is decked out on in all pink unis, and the Cats have on some slick pink shoes. Kentucky still leads 38-27, but it could be a lot uglier.
HALFTIME KENTUCKY 31 VANDERBILT 22 Definitely not the most exciting half of basketball I’ve ever seen, but the Cats got the job done and were able to enter the locker room with a lead, something that is definitely not easy to do on the road in the SEC. The entire half consisted of the refs letting the players play, and the Vandy fans constantly and consistently heckling the referees. The fans weren’t the only unhappy campers as Mitchell looked perpetually perturbed on the sideline despite the Wildcat lead. Mathies led all scorers with 12 points, and the Cats forced the Dores into 15 turnovers. Let’s hope for some more intensity to end the game. Cats.
1st Half 3:32: Possibly even worse than the lousy PA announcer are the Vandy fans themselves. Every single call is boo’ed or heckled and they’ve been wanting some technical fouls all day. Vanderbilt has gone completely stagnant on offense, and Kentucky has used some fast moves from A’dia Mathies and Bria Goss to push their lead ahead to nine. Unlike Memorial Coliseum, Vandy doesn’t really make the enviornment for a women’s basketball game very “exciting”…no lie it’s kind of boring this afternoon. Just goes to show how lucky UK is to have such a supportive athletic program and to allow all teams to have the same amount of “hype” surrounding their successes. Kentucky leads 26-17.
1st Half 7:50: Some in game controvery this afternoon as Coach Mitchell came storming onto the court in protest of an apparent shot clock expiration for Kentucky, and he ended up being right as the refs corrected themselves saying one of UK’s shots did in fact hit the rim. Never seem Mitchell move so fast or so angrily. Biggest improvement of Samarie Walker I’ve seen this season: blocking. She might not be the tallest player on the court, but the girl can sky up into the air, and has great timing to affect the other player’s shot. The Cats haven’t been able to score very easily lately, but Goss bails UK out with another long ball shot and Kentucky leads 18-17.
1st Half 11:56: Cats are hot shooting from behind the arc so far today, getting most of their point production from downtown. Kentucky’s gotten a little lax on the interior defense as Vandy has been able to get a few easy layups in the paint, something Coach Mitchell will not be happy about considering the amount of depth and talent of UK’s post players. The Wildcats look a lot more quick and energetic than the Dores so far, especially shown by Bria Goss and Jenn O’Neill, who both push up the tempo at every chance possible. Vanderbilt is hangin’ around so far, and Walker just had a monster block on poor little Jasmine Lister. Game tied at 15.
1st Half 15:38: After a rough start to the game on Thursday night against the Hogs where the Cats got down by 11 early, Kentucky wanted to avoid that here today against Vanderbilt. They’ve definitely done a good job of that so far. O’Neill and Mathies have already nailed shots behind the arc, and Samarie Walker is continuing her steady play of late as well. Vandy looks sloppy on offense, surely due to the Cats killer defensive pressure, and let me just say: this PA announcer sucks. He is one of the least enthusiastic voices I’ve ever heard, and has mistakenly called three three-point shots as two-point shots for Kentucky. I also don’t like the Commodore mascot…his face is too squished up. Oh yeah….Kentucky is leading 10-6.
BzzzZZZzZzzZZ: I feel like every time Hayley and I have gone to a college basketball game in Tennessee, it’s like we step into a time vault and travel backwards. Everything here feels “antique” and retro, especially Vandy’s Coach Melanie Balcomb’s excessive use of sweater vests. Let’s see how much this backwards court affects the Cats, as Kentucky has won the past four matchups against the Dores. Junior Kastine Evans gets the start again in place of Bria Goss, a combination used last game against Arkansas that led Goss to a 17 point output. Vandy wins the tip aaaand we’re underway in Music City.
10 Minutes till Tip: In case you were unaware, Memorial Gym is weird. The court is weird, the seating is weird, the media area is weird….and it’s hot. No air conditioning is not conducive to a happy Wilder. Blue got in big time today as one whole section of the gym is filled with Kentukcy-clad hoops fans. They’re getting ready to announce the starting lineups here in Nashville, and I’m still eating Doritos. ALERT Vandy pep band is playing Gangnam Style……………………get me out. Look for Jenn O’Neill to get back on track today after a tough two game slump, and for A’dia Mathies to keep on doing what she does: win.