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.
Jan 26, 2015, 6:54 AM EST
We have a new member in our Top Ten.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:35 PM EST
Northwestern has lost its last three games by a total of five points.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:36 PM EST
Lucas Siewert joins small forward Brendan Bailey as Arizona State’s second four-star verbal commitment in the 2016 class.
Jan 25, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
Eight days after attempting 25 three-pointers in their loss to No. 5 Duke, the Cardinals attempted just 12 and scored 40 points in the paint against Pittsburgh.
Three-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining completes second-half rally for No. 20 Northern Iowa (VIDEO)
Jan 25, 2015, 6:24 PM EST
UNI erased a 12-point second half deficit to win at Illinois State, and they remain a game behind No. 14 Wichita State in the Missouri Valley standings.
Jan 25, 2015, 5:38 PM EST
Chris Perry leads the Bulls in rebounding, and chest pains suffered during the team’s workout Saturday resulted in his having to be hospitalized.
Jan 25, 2015, 5:09 PM EST
Also of note on Sunday was Ohio State picking up its first RPI Top 50 win of the season, and both No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 13 Maryland coming back from double-digit deficits.
Jan 25, 2015, 4:13 PM EST
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski picked up career win No. 1,000 as the No. 5 Blue Devils bested St. John’s.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:30 PM EST
Well-traveled former Ole Miss guard Derrick Millinghaus has found a new home.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:21 PM EST
Kentucky is on the board in the 2016 class with a highly-touted big man from New Zealand.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:00 PM EST
A former four-star prospect is heading to Rhode Island.
Jan 25, 2015, 12:00 PM EST
A former Miami point guard is finding tremendous success on the football field and is a even being talked about as a first-rounder in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:10 AM EST
One of the best big men in the 2016 class could decide between three powerhouse programs on Sunday.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
Coach K goes for win No. 1,000 against St. John’s and a fun battle of elite freshmen guards in the Big Ten are Sunday’s highlights.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:05 AM EST
I feel comfortable saying I’m a better dancer than Josh Pastner. Not by much, though.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:58 PM EST
Get caught up on everything that has happened in college basketball on Saturday.
Northwestern State staff wears special pants for ‘Suits and Sneakers’ game against McNeese State (PHOTO)
Jan 24, 2015, 11:34 PM EST
The pants worn by the coaching staff were one of the highlights in Northwestern State’s 92-68 win over McNeese State.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:31 PM EST
Crawford and his teammates are looking to rebound from the 18-point loss they suffered at Tulsa Wednesday night.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:20 PM EST
Peel finished the game with 17 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks as the Blue Devils picked up their first win in NEC play.
Jan 24, 2015, 8:34 PM EST
Baylor really needed this win, but Oklahoma has now lost three of their last four.
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