Coming off a huge, possibly season-altering, win in Morgantown, West Virginia Saturday, Kentucky hosted Vanderbilt tonight for the second game of ESPN’s Tuesday night double-header. The Commodores are by far the worst team in the SEC; the only team with a losing record at 8-13 (2-6). But, they also were coming off a nice showing in the Big 12/SEC Challenge with a home win against TCU (ranked as high as #15 earlier this year).

In Bryce Drew’s 2nd year coaching Vandy, his team has had a difficult time putting the ball in the basket. Coming into the game, they were ranked #279 in overall field goal percentage (42.7) and #297 in 3 point percentage (32.4). The Cats were looking to continue that trend as they were favored by 9 to pick up their 3rd straight victory.

The Cats were able to start Vanderbilt off with a rough start as they were only 1 of 6 from the floor and down 7-2 at the under 16:00 media timeout. The bad shooting was contagious as UK followed suit and was 3/15 from the floor themselves at the next stoppage at 10:55. Vandy hit 3 in a row during a short stretch and was able to sneak ahead 11-10.

Nick Richards got off to an early start with a 3 point play and was quickly up to 8 points and 5 rebounds with 8 minutes left in the first half. Kevin Knox was continuing to be his more aggressive version we saw Saturday, but it was not immediately translating to points. Yet, he was settled in with 4 points and 3 rebounds himself.

The pace and the scoring picked up a little as both squads came back out. Kentucky had a stretch of 5 straight made field goals, including a 3 from Quade Green, but Vandy quickly countered with a 10-0 run capped with a couple of 3s by Riley LaChance to go up 6.

The Commodores held on to that 6 point lead to halftime, 33-27. The Cats were a cold 37% from the floor, but held a 19-16 rebounding margin. Concerning was the lone assist by PJ Washington. Kentucky played 2 point guards at once for a good portion of the half and only had 1 assist as a team.

Riley LaChance added a third 3 early in the second half as Vanderbilt built a double-digit lead. He also committed 2 quick fouls and went to the bench with 4 at the 16:25 mark. This did not immediately pay dividends for the Cats as they fell behind further 45-31. Calipari put on the press to get his team’s energy level up and it worked.

Kentucky cut the lead with an 8-0 run as Quade hit his 2nd 3 of the night. The energy in Rupp picked up and the Cats were feeding off of it, but they couldn’t reel off a long run. After closing to within 3, Vandy was able to methodically stretch their lead back out to double-digits. UK was finally playing with some urgency, but they may have waited too long to get it going.

Knox knocked down his first triple of the game with 6:18 remaining to pull Kentucky within 61-57. The crowd again picked up the intensity and the Cats were still putting on the full-court press at every opportunity. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was running the offense late, setting guys up and calling his own number plenty.

After a Joe Toye driving layup to give Vanderbilt a 5 point lead with only 39 seconds left, the game was all but over. But, there was a little magic in Rupp tonight as the Cats managed to win a little back and forth free throw battle with the ‘Dores including a couple by SGA with only 2 seconds sitting on the clock after a loose ball foul a loooong way away from the bucket.

Rupp exploded as they stayed alive and everybody got a little extra basketball for free. UK won the tip and Shai picked up right where he left off with a driving layup. The Cats took the lead and held it until Vanderbilt tied it again with 9 seconds left. Quade Green took the inbounds pass and dribbled the length of the court all the way to the basket for a game-winning layup.

Shai was the man tonight with a career-high 30 points on 12/19 shooting. After going 18/18 from the line in the second half at WVU, the Cats again went 14/16 from the stripe in the second half and overtime. Kevin Knox also with a nice game, adding 18 points and 8 boards.

Image courtesy of Regina Rickert