Big Blue Preview: Kentucky at Vanderbilt
After giving up 103 points on Saturday night in a home loss to Tennessee, Kentucky watched the tape of Saturday’s game in hopes of being better the next time out. The Cats do not have a lot of time to adjust, as they head to Nashville to face Vanderbilt on Tuesday night (8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network).
UK associate to the head coach Bruiser Flint knows that the Cats need to get better at the little things.
“We can improve on a lot of things. We have to be more consistent with our details,” Flint said. “That’s something we have talked the entire season. I thought in the game, they beat us to a lot of 50/50 balls, we talked about that a lot after watching film. We had some breakdowns in our (defensive out of bounds plays), we talked about that a lot. And those are small things that beat you in the game.”
To that end, Flint believes that just those two things were the difference in the game against Tennessee.
“We thought the biggest parts of the game were 50/50’s where they scored and OB’s where they scored,” Flint said. “And now, a game that was seven, you’ve given up 10 points on out of bounds plays and they scored seven points on 50/50 balls. In a game when you had your opportunity to come back and win, those things hurt you.”
While Flint believes the team is down a little bit after consecutive losses, he has no worries about the team’s morale.
“Our morale has been good. We’re not losing to bums,” Flint said. “We need to focus in on what we need to do moving forward. This league is really good, so we need to focus in on what we need to. This league is tough, there are no nights off in the SEC.”
After dropping two home games last week, the Cats fell to 17th in the Associated Press rankings and 15th in the Coaches poll. And it doesn’t get any easier this week, with Kentucky facing a Vanderbilt team that played perhaps its best game of the season on Saturday.
“Like Cal always says, we’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Flint said of the Commodores. “So, we expect them to play at their best. Last year, they really beat us off the dribble when we played them. We expect them to do a lot of that again this year.”
Kentucky will turn up the focus on the little things in order to improve the big picture moving forward.
Last Time Out: Tennessee Recap
Rob Dillingham scored a career high 35 points, but No. 10/8 Kentucky lost to No. 5/5 Tennessee 103-92 on Saturday night at Rupp Arena.
The Cats got 21 points from Antonio Reeves and 16 from Reed Sheppard, but the Cats never led in the game. UT scored on its first possession and the Vols held the lead for the rest of the game.
Kentucky (15-6, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) fell behind early as Tennessee scored the first eight points of the game. The Cats got a Reed Sheppard three to get on the board, but the Vols scored the next five points, taking a 13-3 lead in the process.
The Vols would go up 19-7 before the Cats started chipping away. Dillingham would score 11 points as part of a 13-4 run that got UK within three, 23-20, with 11:16 left in the half.
Tennessee (16-5, 6-2 SEC) would respond with a 13-2 run, taking a 36-22 lead with 8:26 left in the half. Kentucky responded with a 12-2 run, including five points from Justin Edwards, to make it 38-34. The Vols scored the next four points to lead 42-34 and from there, UK could get no closer than four in the first half, including the halftime score, 46-42. Dillingham led all scorers with 17 points in the first half.
In the second half, Kentucky got within one, 46-45, on a Sheppard three but again, Tennessee answered, scoring 13 of the next 15 points to lead 59-47.
Kentucky would cut the deficit to single digits but was never able to get closer than seven, the final time being at 69-60. Tennessee scored seven in a row to lead by 16, 76-60, and the Vols would secure the victory from there.
Cats Yet to be at Full Strength
With only 10 regular-season games reamining, the 2023-24 season, the Wildcats have yet to be at full strength. Between offseason injuries to Aaron Bradshaw and Ugonna Onyenso, eight games missed by Adou Thiero and Zvonimir Ivišić not being available until Jan. 20, this team has yet to have every piece available.
Aaron Bradshaw: Missed the team’s first seven games recovering from offseason foot surgery. He returned to action Dec. 2 vs. UNC Wilmington
Rob Dillingham: Missed the game at Arkansas with an illness
Justin Edwards: Missed the home game vs. Florida with a leg injury
Zvonimir Ivišić: Missed the team’s first 16 games of the season and was cleared to play for the Georgia game on Jan. 20
Ugonna Onyenso: Missed the team’s first nine games recovering from offseason foot surgery. He returned to action Dec. 16 vs. North Carolina
Adou Thiero: Has missed eight total games this season, including seven in row beginning with the Dec. 29 game vs. Illinois State
D.J. Wagner: UK’s everyday starter at point guard, missed UK’s games against UNC Wilmington and back-to-back home games against Florida and Tennessee with a seperate ankle injuries. Kentucky is 0-3 without him on the floor