The Vanderbilt Commodores came to Rupp Arena on Wednesday night hoping to end their SEC game losing streak of 24 regular-season games. The Cats returned home after a very emotional and hard-fought overtime road win versus Texas Tech. Kentucky is also preparing to face Auburn this weekend. So what do we have? Well, the popular phrase is “trap game.” I don’t subscribe to the trap game theory — you are either ready to play or you aren’t. Regardless, that was the setting for this (uncommon these days) Wednesday night game at (the even more uncommon time) 6:30. I even felt it appropriate to make a few game predictions:
My bold predictions for tonight's game:
1. "Trap game" will be said within first 10 minutes.
2. "Play down to the competition" will be said probably before tipoff
3. "Don't slow it down" will be said even if the Cats aren't slowing down. (missed shots not = to slower play
— MicheleGolfsALot (@ForeverBigBlue) January 29, 2020
Well, I didn’t see “trap game” tweets, but I certainly heard the term tossed around in the media room prior to the game. I actually expected a sluggish start by the Cats, but assumed they would very quickly right the ship and then lead comfortably for the remainder of the game.
Obviously, I am not so good at game predictions. UK started off much better than I anticipated and in no time was sporting an 11-6 lead. But Vanderbilt regardless of how terrible they are perceived to be wasn’t going to give up and on the back of 5-12 three-point shooting, took a 35-28 lead to the locker room at the half. With 10 points apiece for Saban Lee and Dylan Disu, Kentucky appeared to be in serious danger of acquiring yet another “bad” loss.
To be fair, the Cats were operating under a pretty big disadvantage with Nick Richards riding the pine for much of the first half because of 2 quick fouls. As Calipari said after the game, what was learned about this team tonight was, ” We need Nick.”
You cannot argue that when you look at Nick’s final stats. After collecting a single rebound and scoring no points in the first half, Richards ended the game with 15 points and 11 rebounds. While not credited with any blocked shots, Nick certainly made his presence known to at least impact a number of shots as Vandy players would try to drive the lane later in the 2nd half.
Vanderbilt Coach Jerry Stackhouse cited fatigue as one reason his team played less efficiently in the 2nd half. The other reason? Nick Richards. (WE NEED NICK). Saban Lee finished the game with 21 points, but Disu cooled down significantly, scoring on 3 in the 2nd half to finish with 13.
For the Cats, Hagans (12), Maxey (17) and Quickley (11) joined Richards as double-digit scorers. Another interesting stat: every Cat that played except Sestina had at least 2 rebounds. Nate had zero but did have a timely block, steal and assist to go with his 5 points.
As for the rest of my game predictions, well at least I found one reference to “playing to the competition”
The mindset that plays to the level of their competition is the same mindset that relaxes when they get a 10-point lead. Disturbing!
— John Huang (@KYHuangs) January 30, 2020
Unfortunately, the Cats never had a big enough lead built to be accused of “slow ball” as the lead evaporated. But on a snowy evening when the ending could have been very bad, I’m happy to be wrong on that prediction and joyfully accept the comeback victory even if it was “just Vanderbilt.
Follow me on Twitter @ForeverBigBlue