Jan 11, 2013, 11:30 AM EST
With 13:48 left in Thursday night’s game at Vanderbilt, Kentucky was up 47-31 on the Commodores.
It was the kind of performance — dominating at times, inconsistent at others — that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the Wildcats. But regardless of the issues that Vanderbilt has had this season, the bottom line was that Kentucky was getting ready to win an SEC road game, more-or-less a first for everyone on this roster.
But then Vanderbilt switched to a zone. And Kentucky completely lost the ability to function offensively.
The Wildcats missed their next 12 shots. Vanderbilt scored the next 18 points. By the time that Ryan Harrow finally hit a three to give UK the lead back at the 4:58 mark, it was quite clear that this was no longer going to be a laugher. The team that lost by 17 to Marist would be giving Kentucky everything they could handle.
Kentucky would eventually survive 60-58 — thanks, in large part, to a bucket with 17.3 seconds left from Nerlens Noel that quite clearly came after the shot clock had expired — but some wins mean more than others.
Let’s ignore, for a second, the fact that Kentucky was completely and utterly lost against the zone. They needed to hit their last three field goals just to finish 4-17 from the floor against the Vanderbilt zone. They turned the ball over seven times during that stretch.
At the same time, they got abused on the defensive end of the floor because Vanderbilt targeted the defensively-challenged Kyle Wiltjer. But UK needed Wiltjer on the floor because of his zone-busting ability.
While Wiltjer clearly has value on the offensive end, if he can’t improve defensively John Calipari will have a decision to make: either play the sophomore knowing that he’s a matchup opponents will look (and be able) to exploit, or have one of his better offensive weapons sit because of those defensive issues.
“So now I told him: ‘You don’t think anybody was watching the tape, right? No one watched that game? Don’t think every team now is going to go right at you. Good luck.’ And I think he can do it, but he’s got to make his mind up that, ‘I’m not settling for this.’ There’s a couple plays where he broke down; then just rebound. He didn’t rebound, and they scored on him. I mean, fight man. Come on. Where is it?”
And given the value that Calipari places on the defensive end of the floor, there’s a better chance of Wiltjer sitting than Kentucky simply deciding that they’ll accept his defensive struggles in exchange for points on the other end.
“Figure it out. You either don’t stay in the game or figure it out. Fight or we’ll figure it out,” Calipari said according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Add to this the prolonged slump that Alex Poythress has been mired in and that opened the door for Vanderbilt to scrap their way back into a game that should have been a blowout.
Another concern here is that Kentucky doesn’t have much room to spare in terms of the NCAA tournament. This win was just their third RPI top 215 win this season (Maryland and Eastern Michigan), and given how weak the SEC is this season — there just aren’t going to be many chances for the Cats to pick up RPI boosting wins — we could be looking at a situation where UK is sitting somewhere around an eight or a nine seed.
And if they slip up against a Vanderbilt or a South Carolina or a Mississippi State?
I won’t go there.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Mar 2, 2015, 9:33 PM EST
Texas survived to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
Mar 2, 2015, 8:30 PM EST
Seton Hall added to its 2015 recruiting haul on Monday.
Mar 2, 2015, 7:20 PM EST
Alabama loses another starter as the regular season winds down.
Mar 2, 2015, 6:19 PM EST
Bucknell will be looking to make their third NCAA tournament appearance under Dave Paulsen.
Mar 2, 2015, 3:30 PM EST
The Big 12 and the ACC will both be in action.
Mar 2, 2015, 2:30 PM EST
The Atlantic Sun Tournament should be an exciting one as Florida Gulf Coast attempts to dethrone regular season champ North Florida.
Mar 2, 2015, 1:55 PM EST
Trae Jackson broke his foot in mid-January.
Mar 2, 2015, 12:45 PM EST
Sulaimon was dismissed from the team in January of this year.
Mar 2, 2015, 12:25 PM EST
Austin Nichols was the bright spot for the Tigers this season.
Mar 2, 2015, 11:25 AM EST
In addition to the Crusaders and Phoenix, keep an eye on Cleveland State and Oakland.
Mar 2, 2015, 9:27 AM EST
The latest bracket projections from our Dave Ommen.
Mar 2, 2015, 8:30 AM EST
Baylor picked up two huge wins, while Pointer led the Johnnies into the tournament this week.
Mar 2, 2015, 6:10 AM EST
Kentucky is still No. 1, but there’s a bit of a shake-up in the rest of the top ten.
Mar 1, 2015, 10:21 PM EST
Oregon is 6-0 in games decided by five points or less this season. Bell’s key plays factored into the Ducks getting that sixth win on Sunday.
Mar 1, 2015, 10:08 PM EST
Who were Sunday’s bubble winners and losers?
Late Night Snacks: No. 5 Wisconsin wraps up share of Big Ten title while Pitt, Stanford suffer damaging losses
Mar 1, 2015, 10:05 PM EST
Wisconsin hadn’t won the Big Ten since 2008, although they’ve never finished worse than fourth during Bo Ryan’s tenure in Madison.
Mar 1, 2015, 9:57 PM EST
The Governors have posted four consecutive losing seasons, but their top three scorers are expected back in 2015-16.
Mar 1, 2015, 6:29 PM EST
Davon Dillard announced his commitment to Cal Sunday afternoon. The Golden Bears hope to reel in the two big men who were also on campus in Ivan Rabb and Caleb Swanigan.
Mar 1, 2015, 5:11 PM EST
Austin Nichols injured his ankle early in the second half of Memphis’ loss
Mar 1, 2015, 4:30 PM EST
Northeastern’s Devon Begley had to deal with a unique defender, the mop boy, while scoring off of a steal against College of Charleston.
- Mike Krzyzewski refuses comment on Rasheed Sulaimon sexual assault allegations 8
- Bracketology: Villanova takes ahold of the fourth No. 1 seed 3
- College Basketball Talk’s Latest Top 25: How far will Wisconsin and Gonzaga fall? 14
- Bubble Banter: Oregon lands a key win, but Purdue, Stanford and Pitt lose 0
- Late Night Snacks: No. 7 Arizona, No. 11 Wichita State and No. 19 Baylor among Saturday’s big winners 1
- Did Gonzaga cost themselves a No. 1 seed with loss to BYU? 5
- Kaleb Tarczewski produces another quality outing as No. 7 Arizona beats No. 13 Utah 0
- You Make the Call: Was Texas guard Isaiah Taylor fouled on this drive? (16)
- College Basketball Talk’s Latest Top 25: How far will Wisconsin and Gonzaga fall? (14)
- Report: Former Louisville guard Chris Jones charged with rape, sodomy (13)
- Bill Self crushed, Jamari Traylor targeted during Kansas State court storm (VIDEO) (12)
- Dez Wells, Melo Trimble lead No. 14 Maryland to upset of No. 5 Wisconsin (9)