Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Vandy shocked everyone by jumping out to a big halftime lead on Kentucky, only to lose the game after a double-digit swing the other way. First it was Vandy blowing a seven-point halftime lead in Lexington a couple of weeks ago; this time, Vandy coughed up a nine-point halftime cushion to lose the game and the cover, 78-64. You hate to see it.
Let’s first address how things were in Vandy’s favor in the first place. The Commodores could. not. miss. in the first half, hitting eight (E-I-G-H-T) three-pointers before the break. Dylan Disu had three of ’em on four tries — what did Kentucky ever do to that guy???
So as we were saying, hot-shooting Vandy was unconscious in the first half. They were shooting 47% from three-point land when Kentucky shot only 32% from the field as a team. Throw in Vandy winning the rebound and turnover battles, and that’s how the Cats got down by as many as 14 points in the game.
But the second half was another story.
I don’t know what was said in the privacy of the UK locker room, but it lit a fire under the Wildcats. The defense cut down on giving up clean looks and the rebounding battle flipped from -2 in the first half to +13 in the second.
And it helped that Vanderbilt went 3 for 11 from outside on the other basket.
Offensively, Kentucky found its rhythm by pushing the tempo and getting the three guards going. Tyrese Maxey played like the NBA lottery pick he is projected to be, Immanuel Quickley caught fire, and Ashton Hagans was a man possessed.
Throw in Nick Richards cleaning up around the rim and Kentucky’s Big 4 combined for 66 of UK’s 78 points. Maxey in front with 25, Quickley with 18, Richards with 12 and Hagans with 11.
Hagans did more than score the basketball; in fact, he came dangerously close to the elusive triple-double. With 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, Hagans needed only two more assists to record what would’ve been only the fourth triple-double in school history. Afterwards, he admitted he would’ve looked to pass a couple more times had he known what was at stake. Shame on his coaches and teammates for not spreading the word.
Just as important as Hagans’ near-triple-double was his turnovers, or lack thereof. After drawing criticism for averaging almost five turnovers per game over Kentucky’s last five games, he got that number down to one, an errant pass (that wasn’t even his fault) in the first minute of the game. As a team, Kentucky turned it over only nine times.
More observations and awesome things that occurred:
— Tyrese Maxey’s game-high 25 points were the most he’s scored since he put 27 on Louisville. He did it on 10 of 17 shooting while playing almost every minute in the game. He came up with a couple big steals too.
— Immanuel Quickley got nasty in UK’s comeback. Quickley made all three of his three-pointers in the second half and hit every foul shot, all seven of them, in the game.
— Is it time for Coach Cal to pull the leash off the three guards and let them go? It sure looks like it is time for Coach Cal to unleash them. UK’s offense was best when Hagans, Maxey and Quickley were running wild.
— EJ Montgomery was a fighter. He didn’t take many shots, but he got nine rebounds, blocked three shots and was in the middle of at least three piles for loose balls. It’s exactly what Cal wants of him.
— Jerry Stackhouse got way too dressed up too blow it like it. You don’t wear that three-piece in a loss.
— This 45-second stretch was a real buzzkill:
Like, seriously? Can you be any more obvious leveling the count?
— I’ll leave you with this fun fact: in eight consecutive wins over Vanderbilt, Kentucky came back from being behind by double digits in five of them. That’s wild. Thanks for choking, Vandy!
For real though: it was another hard-fought road win on shoot-the-lights-out night in Nashville. The Cats are back home Saturday for Ole Miss.