Unfortunately for the Commodores, they went 0-for-2 in Coach Kevin's Keys, and for that they found themselves on the short end of an 84-70 loss at Memorial Gym on Saturday that wasn't quite as close as the final score indicated.
"Somebody (in the SEC) might beat them, but it will take a heck of an effort," Stallings said. "They have a few weaknesses, but we are not good enough to expose them."
One supposed weakness is perimeter shooting, but against the Dores, UK shot 47 percent from three-point range and took full advantage of its week of preparation to scheme against Vanderbilt's offense.
"We played lights out," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. "Executing, defending, reading the passing lanes, deflecting passes, challenging shots. I thought this was our best effort in that area."
Kentucky was balanced across the starting lineup, with Kelenna Azubuike, Chuck Hayes and Patrick Sparks all scoring 15 points. But the player of the game for the Wildcats was Rajon Rondo, who scored 12 points, dished out eight assists and had no turnovers in 30 minutes.
On the Vanderbilt side, Corey Smith powered his way to 16 points, 12 rebounds and two assists, and Mario Moore looked a bit more like his old self with 15 points, six assists and four rebounds. Dawid Przybyszewski and DeMarre Carroll tallied 12 points each.
The ugly stat in the box score for Vanderbilt was the 20 turnovers, which included 13 in the first half. The Dores also managed to shoot just 31 percent from three, including 23 percent in the first half.
Kentucky jumped out to a 9-0 lead right off the bat, but Vanderbilt cut it to 11-8 when Moore hit a three-pointer, forced a turnover in the backcourt and hit Jason Holwerda for a layup. But Kentucky threw the first of many counter-punches on the day, ripping off a 9-0 run to take a 20-8 lead.
"In the first half, we hurt ourselves with turnovers and bad shots," Stallings said.
Rondo hit a desperation three before the shot clock to give UK a 33-16 lead, then Azubuike capped the first-half blitz with a banked three-pointer at the buzzer to push the lead to 46-29.
"When I saw that shot go in, I turned to the assistants and said, ‘This is a good day,'" Smith said.
Vanderbilt came out fairly sharp in the second half, scoring on six of its first seven possessions, but Kentucky kept pace and never let the Commodores back in the game. The lead reached 24 with under 10 minutes to play before a late Vanderbilt run made the final score more respectable.
"We fought and played as hard as we could to get into striking distance, but that is too good of a team to come from that far back," Moore said.
Bill Trocchi is the online editor for Athlon Sports.
Kentucky guard Rajon Rondo (4) drives past Vanderbilt's Alex Gordon during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005 in Nashville, Tenn. Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt, 84-70. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)