- Saturday, February 11 2006 -
Kentucky - 81 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Vanderbilt - 84 (Head Coach: Kevin Stallings) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Vanderbilt 47, Kentucky 44
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|Tennessee 67 - 75|||||Georgia 68 - 61|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Swept Away: Vandy extinguishes UK
NASHVILLE – A season that started with so much promise for the Kentucky basketball team took another stunning jolt to the system, this time when the foundation of the Cats' success was rocked again.
Vanderbilt destroyed UK's vaunted defensive reputation, shooting 58.8 percent on its way to an 84-81 victory in front of 14,316 fans at venerable Memorial Gymnasium. Coupled with the Commodores' first triumph at Rupp Arena in January, it marked the first time UK has been swept away by Vanderbilt since the 1973-74 season.
As its season continues to veer off the tracks, UK is left with the realization that its mounting problems might not be able to be fixed, including a defense that has been the calling card of Tubby Smith's teams.
"We didn't defend," Smith said. "We came in here knowing we had to do that and we did a poor job of getting back and stopping easy baskets. There is not much you can say except 'What is going on?' It's all predicated on giving effort, contesting shots and moving your feet.
"Anyone can play defense if you have the desire and heart to do so. I was really disappointed because that's one of the things we've built our success around."
The Cats continued their trend of playing without enough focus and intensity for the full 40 minutes, sticking with Vanderbilt for most of the game, but allowing a late stretch by the 'Dores to turn a 61-60 UK lead into a 74-67 Vandy edge. During the four-minute stretch Vanderbilt scored on eight straight possessions, including six shots right at the rim and two more three-pointers.
"I saw it, I was out there," senior guard Patrick Sparks said. "You probably aren't going to win if (58.8 percent) happens.
"It seems like we aren't sticking to the scouting report. The coaches tell us who the shooters are but we don't go out there and execute."
The twist in UK's struggles is that UK continued to play well enough offensively to win basketball games. The Cats shot 46.2 percent for the game – 54.8 percent in the first half – and hit 12 three-pointers, but that effort was undermined by allowing Vanderbilt to make nine threes of its own and shooting nearly 65 percent in the first half.
"Where was the defense?" sophomore guard Ramel Bradley said. "Where were our good contests?"
Still, UK nearly pulled the kind of rabbit out of a hat that could have changed the course of its season. Trailing by 10 with 1:28 to go, UK mounted a furious rally that nearly let it escape with an improbable win.
Ravi Moss kicked off the comeback with back-to-back drives to the basket sandwiched around a five-second inbound violation by Vandy to cut the lead to 82-76 with 1:16 remaining. The Cats produced a steal off their press after a timeout and Sparks buried the final of his five three-pointers to close the gap to 82-79 with 1:06 on the clock. After both teams added two free throws, UK's Rajon Rondo stripped Alex Gordon clean at the top of the key and took off toward the other end when Gordon grabbed his feet and was whistled for an intentional foul with 24.7 seconds left.
Smelling victory and suddenly in the driver's seat, Rondo – a 61.3 percent free throw shooter – stepped to the charity stripe and immediately clanged both of his attempts.
"It doesn't give you too many options when you miss both free throws," Smith said. "They know you have to have a three now."
UK retained possession because of the intentional foul and found Rondo for an open three-point look from the top of the key, but the sophomore with two game-winners to his credit already this year, missed that shot as well. The Cats still had one more chance though, as the ball went out of bounds off Vandy with 2.1 seconds left. It didn't matter because Bradley's off-balance, hotly contested three from the corner came up with nothing but air.
"Empty. Nothing," Smith said of the possession. "Our vision is not there. Our decision-making is not there.
Smith saw the rally as almost a microcosm for the season. UK has been a team that plays in fits and starts all year.
"That's been our M.O. all year," Smith said. "It's like desperation sets in. If we could play with that effort and energy all game…you have to play every possession like it's your last. It's all about attitude and it's just not there."
Now the question becomes, does it matter at this point? Can the Cats muster enough pride to salvage the rapidly disintegrating season? That's the million-dollar question.
Vanderbilt's DeMarre Carroll (#22) shoots over Bobby Perry
Ramel Bradley attempts a last-second shot
It's hard to slow down Rajon Rondo (#4)