The Cats picked up their 12th victory of the season and their first in SEC play with a 70-60 win over Vanderbilt today. The Commodores were without First Team All-SEC center AJ Ogilvy, who bruised his heel in practice yesterday, but they still put a little fear into the Cats early on…and then almost erased a 20-point deficit at the end.
It didn’t look good at the beginning for Cats fans as Patrick Patterson picked up two weak fouls and Vanderbilt knocked down their first four threes (all by different players) to jump out to a 20-13 lead. But, when Patterson went to the bench, the lineup of DeAndre Liggins, Jodie Meeks, Darius Miller, AJ Stewart and Josh Harrellson sparked UK to a quick 6-0 run to put them right back in it and they would eventually take a 31-29 halftime lead.
Kentucky would come out firing in the second half, outscoring Vandy 26-8 in the first twelve minutes before the Commodores started chipping away and cutting it back down to a six-point lead with 53 seconds to go. But, free throws from Michael Porter and Jodie Meeks sealed the deal and Billy Gillispie retained his undefeated home record against the SEC.
A couple of quick notes:
– Early in the game, Kentucky looked VERY SHAKY against the zone defense in the half court and what was basically a token ¾ court 1-2-2 press. They look flustered at the top and there was very little movement out of Patterson and Stevenson inside, which basically played right into Vandy’s hand. I’ve said numerous times that Stevenson and Patterson are deadly running a high-low and it seemed as if they never even looked to flash Perry to the elbow. But, they looked to shore things up as they went along and improving that aspect of the offense could be a major issue heading into Tuesday’s game in Knoxville. In order to survive, they’ll have to…
– Once again rely on their swarming man-to-man defense, which has become the trademark of the Gillispie era in Lexington. With Patrick Patterson saddled with two fouls and the offense basically stagnant, Kentucky never panicked, choosing instead to stick to their guns and play tough defense. That resolve is what put them back in the game and, eventually, brought it home.
There aren’t enough offensive weapons on this team to outscore teams, so it’s extremely important to be sound on the defensive end. Getting steals, forcing bad shots or getting the blocks down low not only equal transition baskets for Kentucky, but they give the Cats extra positions also, which is very important to a team that doesn’t have a whole lot of offensive options. Plus, in games like today and Tuesday, it’s twice as important as these misses or turnovers don’t allow the other team to set up in their zone, which Kentucky hasn’t shown they are confident against.
– Vandy only shot 31% from the field and their top three 3-point shooters were 5-19. That’s a good team effort.
– Patterson’s two first-half fouls were garbage. The first one was when he tried to hedge out while guarding the pick-and-roll and got called for a block on the ball handler. It was probably a foul, but it was a weak one at that and you can’t blame Patterson on the play. The second occurred in the lane with his hands raised straight in the air and looked on TV to be a bad call. So, what we were left with was a shell of the real Patrick Patterson that grabbed only one rebound in 27 minutes.
– Jodie, Jodie, Jodie. Jodie Meeks put up another 21 points today (three below his average) but his shot selection was again spotty. As a fan, I think we continually give Jodie a free pass because he knocks down so many, but there were more than a few that were questionable today. However, the reason I think Gillispie doesn’t think about the tough love with him in terms of shot selection is because he is relentless in attacking the basket when his shot isn’t falling in order to get to the line. Also, there were a few times today where he was the first player on the floor after a loose ball. That’s the type of stuff that’s going to allow him a few freebies on bad shots. Plus, he was the leading rebounded too with 7.
– Some of you might be waiting to hear that Ramon Harris had an outstanding game and that he hit all five of his field goals and both of his threes in route to his 12 points and 7 rebounds. You might be wanting me to say that it’s great to see him back to 100% and he played what was probably his best game as a Cat, finishing around the basket strongly and getting after it on defense. But, I’m not going to say those things because…well, that is what Matt Jones would say.
– JORTS! Josh Harrellson looked good, I thought, early on in relief of Patrick Patterson. He only played 9 minutes but had 5 points and 2 rebounds. Plus, he knocked down a three and followed the one he missed for a putback. I like. He played good defense when he was in there, but he spent most of his time guarding a guy who looked like this so he gets no credit from me for that.
– Is Michael Porter actually becoming the stabilizer? He had two turnovers and only two assists, but he’s looked much shakier against much worse competition. He was one of the few players who handled the pressure well when it was applied and hit some clutch free throws in the end. He’s far from being an All-SEC player, but if you didn’t get pumped when he hit that jumper as shot clock expired, then you have no soul.
– I still can’t get a feel for Perry Stevenson. He came out strong and scored the Cats’ first three buckets, but disappeared for pretty much the rest of the game. He did have three blocks, but he finished with only two rebounds in 34 minutes. They’ll need much more from him on Tuesday.
– Darius Miller played 14 minutes and only had two points. However, I think he played well. For all we keep hearing about his shattered confidence, that’s not what I saw. I saw a kid that got robbed on about three or four shots that rimmed out but kept attacking on offense and hitting the glass on defense. If you just go off of today’s game, I don’t think he has a confidence problem. He just has a luck problem. It will work itself out eventually and, by the end of the year, he will be a major part of this team’s success.
– Kevin Galloway, perhaps you should peacock. Maybe coach just isn’t noticing you down there. Go bedazzle your warm-ups or put a blue streak through your hair. You’ll definitely stand out then.
– AJ Stewart played 10 minutes and was pretty much wasn’t noticeable, which is an improvement from him. No major mental mistakes….except the prettiest offensive goaltend that I’ve ever seen.
– To the guy dancing in the stands: Please don’t stop. You are an awful dancer and your head is going to hurt like hell in the morning, but your passion is truly an inspiration. Keep on keeping on, brother.
Ok, I’ve written way too much already. I’m sure Matt will have some more thoughts tomorrow afternoon but, for now, let’s bask in the glory of an undefeated record in the SEC. But, bask with one eye open because those damn Vols are up next.