Saturday critical game to both teams

The 2nd-ranked Kentucky Wildcats may face their stiffest challenge of the season this Saturday against Vanderbilt.

The 2nd-ranked Kentucky Wildcats may face their stiffest challenge of the season this Saturday against Vanderbilt.

Some people may want to argue the point given that in their first meeting the Cats used an early 32-19 run in the first half to establish a double digit lead they would never give up. They led by as many as 19 cruising to a surprisingly easy win in Rupp Arena.

Still, all signs point to this being a tough contest for the Cats. Vanderbilt is unbeaten at home and the Wildcats have struggled several times on the road this season, including this past Tuesday's overtime win in Starkville against Mississippi State. Back in mid-January the Cats led Auburn (3-8 SEC) by just three points with just over a minute remaining in the game before inching out a five point win. And of course the Cats were handed their only loss by a pretty mediocre South Carolina team (5-6 SEC) on the road just 10 days after the Auburn game.

There is very little question that Vanderbilt is the best team Kentucky will have faced on the road thus far this season, and there's a lot on the line. A win for Vandy would put them into a tie for first place with UK in the SEC East – and the Dores have been playing well, winning their last three games including a 19-point stomping of Tennessee in Nashville.

One key for Kentucky to win may be keeping Jermaine Beal in check. Beal scored 19 against the Cats in their first meeting and has been the Commodores' most consistent shooter over the last seven games. In those contests he has been shooting nearly 45% from three point range and had been getting to the free throw line regularly where he has been deadly accurate.

Vandy's big man, A.J. Ogilvy, is another concern. The 6-foot-11 power player had actually been off his game for a while until he erupted for 27 points on Thursday night in a nice road win against Mississippi. Jeffrey Taylor can also fill it up as he did against Tennessee, scoring 26.

Vanderbilt is the SEC's most accurate three point shooting team and the second best free throw shooting team, two areas that should get plenty of John Calipari's attention as he prepares for Saturday.

Despite being a game ahead in the standings, the game may be as important to Kentucky as it is to Vandy. Both teams face tough teams down the stretch. Vandy can ill-afford to drop two games behind the Cats, but with games coming against Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina, teams that played well against the Cats this year, and Florida, Kentucky may need the two-game padding to claim the top spot.

It should be a real barnburner in Nashville.

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