BOZICH | Nine Thoughts On Kentucky's 71-62 Win Over Vanderbilt
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WDRB) – The University of Kentucky has won four straight games for only the second time this season after defeating depleted Vanderbilt, 71-62, at Memorial Gymnasium Saturday.
After the first week of conference play, only four of 14 teams in the Southeastern Conference remain unbeaten -- UK, Florida, Georgia and Texas A&M. Kentucky moved to 14th in the Pomeroy computer rankings and 17th in the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index).
Here are Nine Thoughts on the Wildcats improving to 2-0 in the SEC and 12-3 overall:
1. TWIN TOWERS – The Wildcats have won with the Twin Towers approach before, but that was when Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin were in town. This time Kentucky is towering over opponents with twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison.
Improved play by the Harrisons carried the Wildcats past Louisville two weeks ago. Against Vandy, the twins, especially point guard Andrew, continued to do more of what coach John Calipari wants and less of what they used to do in AAU ball.
Andrew Harrison hurt Vandy with 10 points, four assists, eight rebounds and no turnovers in 34 solid minutes. He made two of three three-point shots. Aaron contributed 14 points and four rebounds, while making five of six free throws. They helped control Vanderbilt, which dismissed its leading scorer earlier in the week and dressed only nine guys.
"Andrew Harrison is finally starting to get it," Calipari said. "His brother held the ball too much. He was the ball stopper today. Andrew was not. He threw it ahead and made quick plays."
2. WHERE'S JULIUS? – For the second time in three games, cramping issues restricted Julius Randle's play in the second half. In fact, Randle had to report to the UK locker room for fluids.
After leading Kentucky with 11 rebounds and six points while playing 17 minutes in the first half, Randle made one free throw without a rebound while laboring through eight minutes in the second half. He hobbled through several possessions.
Calipari was asked if tension or pressure is causing the problem for his freshman forward, who is averaging 17.4 points and 10.9 rebounds.
"Could be," Calipari said. "It could be. I don't know. All I told him was, ‘If I see you not running right, I'm playing Alex (Poythress). So either run right or you're coming out.
"You have to understand. He's in a dogfight. I think right now he's the only college player who when he catches the ball he has three guys on him. I don't know if there is another college player. You'd have to tell me who that would be. He's got three guys on him when he catches it – and they're being physical. He's not just running up and down the court. He's like in a football game."
3. MOVING ON UP – Kentucky started the week ranked 14th in the Associated Press top 25 poll. The Wildcats will be ranked higher Monday.
At least two teams ranked ahead of Kentucky – Louisville and Iowa State – have been beaten since the last poll.
Calipari said there is not a team in the nation with more potential.
"Look, we're still not there," he said. "But I'm looking around the country and I don't see anybody there. So this is all good.
"I like my team. I like our progress. We have the biggest upside of any team in the country. We do. We're the youngest team in the country. We are. I've just got to try to be patient. I have none. I do what I can to try to keep coaching these guys."
4. PLEASED WITH POYTHRESS -- Calipari was particularly pleased with the play of sophomore forward Alex Poythress, even though his stats were not outrageous – nine points, four rebounds and one block in 19 minutes.
"I was so proud of Alex and he started the game shaky," Calipari said. "He doesn't believe in himself as much as we do. We talk about it as a team. Everybody's like, ‘Man, you were unbelievable today.'
"That's who he is . We just want him to play. Play and go. He can do it now because he can breathe. He's in shape."
5. WONDERFUL WILLIE – Think about it: I'm at item five and just getting to the guy who appeared on the post-game telecast as Kentucky's star of the game – center Willie Cauley-Stein.
He might have played his most efficient offensive game, making seven of nine shots while collecting six rebounds in 31 minutes.
"I think we played really good as a team," Cauley-Stein said. "That's been one of the biggest things this year. The word is we're really not a good team, we've got selfish guys.
"But the last couple of days in practice we've been getting closer basketball-wise as a team, and in the games it's showed. We do got each other's back and we really do have good guys."
6. MEMORIES OF TYREKE EVANS – Calipari is known for the point guards he has sent to the NBA – starting with three at Memphis. The more the coach watches Andrew Harrison, the more Calipari is reminded of one of those former Tigers – Tyreke Evans, now with the New Orleans Pelicans.
The comparison begins with size – Evans is 6 feet 6, the same height as Andrew Harrison. But there's more. Calipari said he had to change the mentality of the way both guys play, starting with moving the basketball.
"What (Harrison) did was what I was asking him to do – get rid of the ball," Calipari said. "Get us running. When you get it back, attack. Do not hold the ball. Don't be a ball stopper. No one in the country wants to play with a ball stopper. They don't.
"If you have a play to make, make it. If not, get rid of it. He did that today. He really did. And he had eight rebounds.
"He reminds me of the progress and the process with Tyreke Evans. It's really similar. Both of them had habits that you had to crack. Both had a mentality of how to play the game that was kind of the opposite the way it needed to be.
"Now when you begin to see him thinking differently and playing a little different, you're seeing a guy with that kind of size, can make shots, can make free throws, is a good passer and handler and has great speed."
7. POLSON POWER – Jarrod Polson will help Kentucky win important games this season. He is poised. He is fearless. And against Vanderbilt, Polson was productive.
In Kentucky's first 14 games this season, Polson had taken one three-point shot. He made it.
Polson's three-point shooting remains nearly perfect. He made a pair against the Commodores in the first half as the Wildcats spurted to 30-22 halftime lead. Polson finally missed a three in the second half, finishing with six points in 14 solid minutes.
"I feel pretty confident with my three-point shot," Polson said. "We practice all the time with that and I do pretty well in practice. I saw an opportunity and took it."
Polson does not hunt shots. But when he's open, Polson will shoot the ball and score. Don't forget this: Polson has now played 62 minutes this season and turned the ball over once.
8. PAGING JEFFERY TAYLOR, JOHN JENKINS – It's too soon to say Vandy coach Kevin Stallings has tumbled into the Hot Seat, but I'd stay tuned to the story.
Vandy's average home attendance has slipped to 8,583, only sixth best in the SEC. They announced a sellout (14,316), but there were plenty of empty seats in the lower arena. It's no exaggeration to say Kentucky fans were 40 percent of the crowd.
After winning the SEC Tournament and 25 games two seasons ago, Vandy finished with a losing record last season, missing the post-season. With only seven scholarship players, Vandy will be missing in March again. With the new SEC schedule, Vandy does not visit Rupp Arena this season.
9. ROAD WORK – The Wildcats face one more road game before they return to Rupp Arena for three consecutive conference home games. Kentucky will be in Fayetteville to play Arkansas at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
The Razorbacks had been razor-sharp at home – until Saturday. Florida overcame a seven-point deficit in the final five minutes and then Scottie Wilbekin tied the game in the final two seconds.
The Gators never trailed in overtime, delivering an 84-82 victory, Arkansas' first loss at Bud Walton Arena in 11 games this season. The Razorbacks are 0-2 in the SEC, losing their opener at Texas A&M by 16.
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