Like a Vanderbilt student opening a letter from an Ivy League school, we went into this game with a lot of hope and high expectations, only to be rejected, again. Let’s try to put it behind us and look at the things that made this game what it was.
– In a stark contrast to the game against Tennessee in Rupp, the Cats simply didn’t get after it on the defensive end today. UK outplayed Vanderbilt for most of the first half, but went into halftime down four because of lackluster perimeter defense and poor defense rebounding. We gave up 11 of 20 from beyond the arc to Vandy and struggled to pull in the ball after their misses which led to deflating second chance scoring opportunities for the Commodores. To give up 81 points to Vanderbilt is unacceptable. This team has the ability to play great defense and a showing like this doesn’t reflect the talent that we have on the court.
– The big guy for Vandy today was John Jenkins. After going 1 for 6 from the three point last year in Memorial and getting his lunch served to him by John Wall on a block in the waning seconds, Jenkins stepped out and exploded today. He had 32 points on 6 of 10 shooting from the three point line. His three free throws after a dumb Terrence Jones foul and his wide open corner three in the second half prevented the Cats from sustaining a run to take the lead down the stretch. Call it Memorial Magic or just crappy defense, but Jenkins lit us up today.
– On UK’s end, I don’t think there is a player that’s going to stir more debate than DeAndre Liggins. Liggins made his mark on the game early and often. He was driving, dishing and looking for his own shot, too. His bravado might have caused a bit more trouble than it was worth though. His first half technical meant we had to take him off of John Jenkins defensively, and it meant that he had to sit for a bit longer than Coach Cal would have wanted. He showed that same heady play in the second half by making a huge three as the shot clock was expiring and a then taking a charge on the other end even though he had four fouls. At that point, I thought he was going to be the man to spark the win in the final minutes like Patterson and his corner three against Vandy last season. However, two turnovers that led to Commodore points changed my mind. I like that he gets excited and shows some emotion because that’s what this team desperately needs, but he’s going to have to learn to reign it in enough so that it doesn’t become a burden.
– If we’re going to look for a positive in a loss, the older guys continued their statistical contributions from the Tennessee game. Jorts had 7 points and 10 rebounds, DeAndre had 10 points and Darius added 7, too, despite an early second half injury. Jorts needs to keep looking for his offense. When he can contribute on the offensive end, it adds a whole new dimension to this team. I like when he calls for the ball and asserts himself.
– Speaking of Darius’ injury, Matt did his best doctor impersonation on the radio show and attributed Miller’s injury woes to ‘a hit in the gonads’. Hopefully Darius will be fine and the UK Athletics statement of a ‘leg injury’ was just a flattering comparison.
– The freshmen pitched in their usual contributions, sans Doron’s shooting from distance. Terrence put up numbers like he had earlier in the season with a 25 point 9 rebound stat line. At times it seemed that Jones was near impossible to guard when the ball was in his hands. He was making plays in the paint and got to the free throw line where he shot 6 for 8. His three point attempts were irksome but the only thing that kept Jones from dominating Vanderbilt like he did against Notre Dame was the defense by the Vandy big men in preventing the entry passes. Knight got his 20 points and put up good shooting numbers but he finished with a 2:4 assist to turnover ratio, including the ugly pickpocket at the end of the first half. Doron didn’t have his usual stroke but put up 8 points in 30 minutes.
– The points were there for this team but once again it comes down to poor defense. Doron and Knight were beat off the dribble more times than players of their caliber should be. Heck, a guy named Tinsley drove right around Knight when we desperately needed a stop and Doron looked lost trying to follow Jenkins off of screens.
– We actually shot decently from the free throw line, 14 for 18, but Vanderbilt shot better. It’s hard to win a game when the other team makes more free throws than you attempt. Vandy went 20 for 23 from the line. That’s tough to overcome.
– The revolving door of bench players made their brief appearances today, too. Eloy, Polson and Hood all came in and provided very little in terms of production. I don’t know what it is about Jon Hood, but it seems like he gives up a three every single time he puts his hand up defensively. Maybe it’s just bad luck but it always seems to happen that way. Still no Stacey Poole sightings. Make what you will of that.
– There’s a lot of ‘the sky is falling’ talk amongst the fanbase, but we have to step back and look at this team with a bit of perspective. In four of our conference losses plus the loss in North Carolina, we’ve lost by a combined 12 points. The team needs to develop the killer instinct that made last year’s team so special. I don’t think we need to start looking toward next year just yet.
– That’s all I’ve got for a disappointing outing in Nashville. We’ve got four home games with a trip to Arkansas in the middle coming up. Hopefully it’ll be a chance for us to get back on track.
That’s all I got for you right now. Try to put on a happy face.