The history of the “Memorial Magic” is one of Vanderbilt folklore, but I would surmise that BBN is fully prepared to believe. After the 87-52 win Tuesday night, the doubts have disappeared.
After the embarrassing 34 point loss to Duke on November 6th, many of the most fervent Kentucky Wildcat fans had their doubts that this season would be anything but a wash. The lackluster play during the non-conference schedule was not helping dissuade negative thoughts and fears. BBN was having a hard time coming to grips. NIT bound, perhaps? But following 3 straight wins against AP Top 25 opponents (the first time during the regular season since 2004) and handling business against Louisville and North Carolina, there was a glimmer of hope that this season was indeed everything that BBN and experts predicted it could be.
The Cats, coming off a signature win against the Kansas Jayhawks at Rupp, went into the game Tuesday night as a 9 point favorite over the ‘Dores. The win would be 7th straight victory and improve the record for January to 7-1. The concern of many would be that the Cats would be “hungover” from the win and come out flat and not ready to play. What happened was a 35 point annihilation of an SEC opponent on the road at a gym that is notoriously hard to compete in.
The first half of the game was one of the most dominating performances of the Calipari era. The half holds a close comparison to the December 20, 2014 massacre of UCLA at the United Center where Karl Anthony Towns and company ran out a 24-0 lead and 41-7 first half. They eventually won the game 83-44. Vandy succeeded in keeping within earshot of the Cats and even pulled within 2 at the 13:50 mark. But something clicked, and it was off to the races for the Cats. They would end the half on a 28-3 run, PJ Washington had a double-double (18 points and 10 rebounds), and the Cats would have 17 made field goals on 11 assists (all the while only turning it over 1 time). ALL of that IN THE FIRST HALF. The craziest stats for the half would be the fact that Reid Travis did not put up a single shot and Keldon Johnson had zero points. In the locker room at the half, Calipari joked with his team, “I was really mad at them because I don’t want any of my teams playing this well in January.”
Washington would make this the 3rd 20+ point game in a row. He ended up with 26 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals in 29 minutes. Calipari had this to say, “I told him, ‘I’m not taking you out, because I’m not screwing this up.’ And I told EJ, ‘You have to deal with it because I’ve been waiting a year and a half for this.’ You don’t know why the light goes off.”
Nick Richards would finish the game 14 points, and Tyler Herro would add 12. After not producing on either end of the floor, Coach Cal told the reporters that he had asked Kenny Payne at half time “…should I start Keldon the second half?” KJ ended the game with 11 points on 3-6 shooting behind the arc and 2 assists. It seems that the message was received loud and clear.
I am not sure if it was the magic in Memorial or light bulbs turning on or off, but this team is finally reaching its potential, and it is going to be a fun ride into March. So, abracadabra!