Kentucky answered by making it look easy in probably their best performance of the year.
The Wildcats started off extremely slow, not even reaching double figures until the 8:47 mark in the first half; however, UK took the lead (24-23) at the 5:16 mark and never looked back. In the last ten minutes of the game, Kentucky was turning a win into a statement led by freshman point guard, Rajon Rondo, who had a career high 18 points.
Common sense says that when you beat your opponent in almost every aspect, you will win a ton of games. Kentucky did that with continued strong defense and a balanced attack from inside and out. Rajon Rondo showed everyone how it's done by justifying the statements from fans that "he is all over the place." Against the Commodores, Rajon led the Wildcats in points (18), assists (4), steals (3), blocks (2), and minutes played (34), To say he played well is an understatement as announcers on Fox Sports Net were "thoroughly impressed" with his abilities and effort.
Most importantly, my wife was impressed. My dog even sat up to watch Rajon pull down a board and beat almost everyone down the floor for a layup between two defenders.
Beyond the show by Rondo, Kentucky looked very good overall. Excellent shooting selection and connection in both halves allowed Kentucky to manage a 58% clip for the game, by far their best shooting night of the season. After going 6-26 from the arc against #2 Kansas, UK was just as productive against Vanderbilt connecting on 6 three's while only attempting 13. Kentucky hit 62% of their shots from two-range as well. They concentrated well, connecting on their open shots, at least until they reached the foul line. Again, Kentucky shot a dismal 52% from the foul line on 21 attempts. Even though that stat was hurt by rusty returnee, Sheray Thomas,' 0-4 from the charity stripe, it is an area that demands improvement especially among those of us who can hit nine out of ten in our own back yard.
Yes, I realize that my back yard is not Rupp Arena. I also recognize that Hayes went 4-5 and Morris, 2-2 from the foul line. Thanks, guys. And I must add how nice it is to see Sheray back and getting his weight back up. He is a breath of fresh air to see on the court again.
Vanderbilt's 30% from three point range was a far cry from the 52% they had shot in those previous attempts, and that did shine as a very important stat considering they still tried 30 times. The three's they hit early didn't manage to sustain themselves; but, how can they expect to continue hitting leaning and fading three's? In the last six minutes or so of the game, Vanderbilt only tried to shoot one time from inside the arc. The poor shot selection appears to have been transferred to the Commodores this time, and it even affected their open shots. Also, Kentucky did a very good job of shutting off the cuts that were so successful against previous opponents. After their luck ran out, they couldn't show any semblance of how they beat Alabama and Tennessee so badly.
Kentucky also had a 10 rebound margin over Vandy, 31-21, while only giving up 4 offensive boards to the Commodores. I have to say we see big improvement in that area.
Aside from the shooting performance by Kentucky, they also won the game with defense and by dominating the paint. Points off of turnovers were dominating for Kentucky again tonight, and the 38 points in the paint showed a marked improvement.
Of course, the game would have been a total embarrassment had the bench showed up. Only contributing 6 points to the effort, the subs were led by Ravi Moss with a single three-point field goal. He was, on the other hand, 1-1. He also showed why he is on the floor when he smacked the ball away from his man and dove on the floor after the ball. Simply put, though, Kentucky's bench is going to need to step up and not rely on the starters to be hot every week of the season. It's not going to happen no matter how good they are. An improvement from bench play will help Kentucky achieve one goal of putting together a full 40 minutes of good basketball that seems to have evaded them this season.
Rondo looked very, very good; however, he got a bit too comfortable from long distance and tried a couple more that might have been rushed. I'm all for his long-range development, but I do hope he is squared when he attempts the shots. Aside from that, good golly, son.
Randolph Morris, we want more rebounds and fewer fouls from you. We like your showing good footwork, but please watch the hands and use them for something more productive like grabbing boards. Thank you, though, for hitting both of your free throws.
Patrick Sparks, you are a great shooter. You are a great dive and disher. You need to improve at scoring off the dribble. Some of the biggest plays of the year have come from this exact thing from you; however, more often than not, you get blocked or miss badly. Don't worry, we are very impressed with you and love you. Don't try too much!
Ravi Moss, please take over the bench. You are 1-1 from long distance tonight. You have very active hands. You are a great athlete. Just like the team needs a leader overall, the bench needs a leader while the starters are resting. You are that man, at least to me.
Josh Carrier, please ignore some fans. If anyone throws boos at Kentucky athletes on the floor, then they deserve to be beaten with a stick (not that I'm threatening to beat anyone with a stick).
Kentucky will hit the bus for their first conference road game against the Georgia Bulldogs, who swept the Cats during the regular season last year. This is a much different Bulldog team, though, and I can only say that I am thankful our first road contest is against them and not Alabama. Good luck, Cats. You showed a ton of composure in the face of adversity this week. We applaud you.