Photo by Regina Rickert
Kentucky Basketball

Tale of Two Halves as UK Pulls Away Late to Defeat Vandy, 71-62

January 29, 2020

It was a Jekyll & Hyde kind of performance tonight for the Cats, as they came out flat and uninspired in the first half tonight, and trailed at half 35-28. Nick Richards only played 5 minutes, as he was saddled with foul trouble, and was scoreless with one rebound. It was a different story in the 2nd, as Nick was able to stay on the floor and dominated, scoring 15 points and pulling down 10 boards. Nick sparked the team in the 2nd half, but the first half was a struggle, as no one could get going for the Cats, and Vandy, uncharacteristically hit threes from all over the court and went into the half leading by 7. UK’s defense was porous, to say the least, giving up drives and open shots, and their offense sputtered badly. Vandy shot 52% in the first half and hit 5 threes, and the Cats could only manage 39% and 1 three in the first 20 minutes of action. Saben Lee, Vandy’s starting point guard, constantly got into the lane and scored or found open Commodores for open threes and baskets, and he finished with a game-high 21 points on the night. Ashton Hagans, on the other hand, had 4 first-half turnovers, as the Cats were very sluggish and out of sync without their anchor in the middle to settle things down and get buckets, rebounds, and challenge shots defensively.

The second half was altogether different, however, as the Cats turned up the energy, and Richards was able to stay on the floor for 17 of 20 minutes. Nick scored all 15 of his points and provided some big buckets down the stretch on back-to-back lob dunks to put Vandy away and save the Cats from a terrible blemish on their record. Tyrese Maxey also led the charge in the second half, as he along with Richards scored UK’s final 16 points after Vandy pulled to within 2 at 55-53 with 6:44 left in the game. Maxey finished with 17 points on 5-10 over-all, 2-3 from three, and 5-6 from the line. Maxey getting back in the groove offensively was probably the most welcome sight for UK fans tonight, as he had struggled a bit in January. He is likely in the midst of the “freshman lull” that most freshmen experience during the long college basketball season. Hopefully, for UK, he doesn’t hit a wall and is able to keep his momentum going from here on out.

One Vandy player that was also impressive, and a big problem for Kentuckytonight as well, was 6-9 220 pound freshman Dylan Disu. The Texas native was a matchup problem all night, as he was able to score from inside and out and displayed impressive athleticism at both ends, finishing with 13 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 blocks. He may be a huge problem going forward, especially if he is around for a second year at Vandy. Coach Jerry Stackhouse, the former UNC star, got a great one in Disu. Vandy cooled off considerably late in the second half from three and over-all, and Nick Richards was able to control the boards, seemingly rebounding every Vandy miss late, to seal the victory in a game that ended up much closer than anticipated.

Another player that picked up his intensity in the second half was EJ Montgomery. EJ was aggressive on a couple of offensive rebounds and earned himself an and-1 opportunity on an offensive rebound midway through the second half when Kentucky needed a spark. He also got another offensive rebound a minute afterward and scored on a short jumper to give the Cats their first lead at 51-50, since the 8:37 mark of the first half. Nate Sestina and Johnny Juzang had small but meaningful contributions, with Nate scoring 5 points and tallying 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block, but 0 rebounds, and Johnny scoring 2 points, pulling down 3 rebounds, and tallying a steal and a block. Keion Brooks, again, was quite over-all with 0 points and 2 rebounds. Immanuel Quickley didn’t shoot it well over-all, and missed his only 2 three-point attempts, but made all 5 of his free throws and finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists, and 0 turnovers. Hagans had trouble with turnovers in the first half, but only had one in the 2nd and finished with 12 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 turnovers, and 2 steals.

It is possible that the Cats weren’t quite as focused as they needed to be coming off an emotional road win at Texas Tech and looking forward to another big road game at #17 Auburn on Saturday. The Commodores came into tonight having lost 24 in a row in the SEC, and it looked for a while that that streak may come to an end tonight had the Cats not woke up in the second half. The game at Auburn looms large for the SEC regular-season standings as well. The Cats are now 6-1 while Auburn stands at 5-2, so winning Saturday would give the Cats a two-game lead in the loss column for 2nd place in the SEC race. LSU remained undefeated tonight and now stands at 7-0, so maintaining a 1 game gap between the two is paramount to the Cats having a shot at winning the SEC, as the two teams only play once, down in Baton Rouge on February 18th.

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Tale of Two Halves as UK Pulls Away Late to Defeat Vandy, 71-62

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