Kentucky and Vanderbilt, Saturday game of the day. That may sound familiar to you, as it should: This was the highlighted game three weeks ago here on Doc’s as well, but it deserves the top treatment again this week.
Back then, Vandy entered having won 10 games in a row and was actually leading Kentucky in the SEC East. So what happened that day in Lexington? The Wildcats took a 15-point halftime lead and never were much threatened in winning, 85-72, covering as an 8.5-point favorite. Vanderbilt has a very good frontline but it was dominated in that one, as UK’s DeMarcus Cousins had 21 points and 10 rebounds as Kentucky outrebounded Vandy, 39-21. UK made 12 three-point baskets, its most this season against an SEC opponent, and shot 52.2 percent from long range, also the team’s best this season vs. a conference team. In addition, the Vanderbilt bench had three more points than I did in the game (Kentucky’s had 23).
So here we are again, with Kentucky the visitor this time and with the SEC East lead again up for grabs, with Vandy trailing the ‘Cats by a game and the Commodores are listed as a one-point underdog on BookMaker. One could argue that a win today nearly locks up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for Kentucky, as it should roll through the rest of the regular-season schedule. Yes, I know the Cats still play at Tennessee, but the Commodores had no trouble winning there. In addition, Vandy is unbeaten at home this season (13-0, 6-5 ATS).
Kentucky should have the advantage of being better rested, as it last played Tuesday in a game it should probably have lost as Mississippi State blew a seven-point lead in the final three minutes and lost at home in overtime. John Wall, Cousins and Patrick Patterson all had double-doubles against the Bulldogs to become the first trio of UK players to record double-doubles in the same game since 1977. Patterson’s double-double was his first since late December. MSU, by the way, played without its leading scorer and with stud shot-blocker Jarvis Varnado in foul trouble all night. So that makes Kentucky’s effort look a bit shakier.
Vandy beat the other SEC Mississippi school, 82-78, on Thursday night for its third win in a row (also getting back starter Andre Walker and top reserve John Jenkins after each had missed the previous game). Center A.J. Ogilvy had 27 points and eight rebounds in probably his best game of the year, so that might bode well against the big Wildcats on Saturday. And no team gets to the free-throw line more than Vandy. It made 26-of-34 free throws against Ole Miss and has made 251-of-346 free throws in SEC games so far. Seven other SEC teams haven’t even attempted as many free throws as Vandy has made. In the first meeting with UK, Vandy was 23-for-31 from the charity stripe, but UK was 25-for-39.
Interestingly, UK coach John Calipari has never coached a game at Vandy, where the benches are under the baskets (could affect communication if you aren’t used to that). The Commodores have won six of the past nine meetings overall. And I think they cover here if not pull the upset, as the home team has covered in the past five in this series. And this game is Kentucky’s first true road matchup against a Top 25 team.