Vanderbilt had four players finish in double digit scoring and fought to the bitter end but it wasn't enough on Tuesday night as the Commodores fell to the Kentucky Wildcats, 87-81.
A back and forth contest the majority of the night, Vanderbilt and Kentucky went toe to toe inside Memorial Gym in what was probably the best overall performance from the Commodores basketball team on the season, despite it coming in a loss.
It was Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew's first matchup with the SEC's top dog in Kentucky and he appeared more than up to the task to compete with the Wildcats. Coach Drew put together a solid game plan that would allow his team to stay in the game with a chance at the end to win. Vanderbilt gave up 87 points and didn't play the best of defense but that is something Coach Drew was anticipating, The Commodores do not have the athleticism or overall talent to stick with the ultra talented Wildcat team but his prep work and attention to details, worked on Tuesday night as his team was right there in the end for an opportunity at upsetting the conference leader.
Vanderbilt and Kentucky went blow for blow in the 1st half, putting up points and working fast through transition. The Wildcats took a 45-41 lead into halftime and even though it was already established as a high scoring affair, Vanderbilt felt good about themselves headed into the locker room.
The second half was much like the first. Both teams were playing with a high level on offense and struggling at times on the defensive end of the court. Kentucky would be a lead as big as eight but Vanderbilt maintained their exposure and hung tough continuing to keep themselves in the ball game. Foul trouble for Vanderbilt became a problem in the 2nd half. Backup Djery Baptiste already had four fouls from the first half but starting big man Luke Kornet picked up two quick but questionable calls around the 10 minute mark of the 2nd half. Taking Kornet off the floor is a blow for Vanderbilt in any game but against Kentucky, you definitely need the senior leader on the court.
Luckily for the Commodores, the rest of the team stepped up and kept the game close as Kornet rested on the bench. Starting guards Matthew Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance were solid on Tuesday night, especially LaChance who showed a bevy of skills. He was aggressive as a scorer and had multiple great drives to the basket. The Commodore guards were big reasons of why the team was in the game but the unsung hero of the night was forward Jeff Roberson. The junior forward had been struggling for several weeks to find the basket but against the Wildcats, Roberson put together a great game with 19 points, 9 rebounds and no turnovers.
The collective efforts from the Commodore veterans were strong on Tuesday night but in the end, it wasn't enough as the NBA talented Wildcats made just a few more baskets for the win. Fisher-Davis had an opportunity with about 10 seconds remaining to bring the game to within one point but his shot was off and Kentucky took the ball and run out the clock.
Roberson, Fisher-Davis and LaChance each had 19 points on the night. Kornet chipped in 16 points himself along with 8 rebounds. The Wildcats were led in scoring by guard Isaiah Briscoe at 23 and he was a problem for the Commodores defense. Briscoe was able to drive to the basket at will and displayed excellent strength finishing at the rim. Freshmen De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk also had solid games with 22 and 18 points. Fox in particular was tough in transition and showed Tuesday night why he is such a regarded NBA prospect.
The Commodores dropped to 8-8 overall and now 2-2 in the SEC, while the Wildcats pushed their record to 14-2 and 4-0 in the SEC. Vanderbilt remains at home this week and they welcome another rival on Saturday night as they are set to face the Tennessee Volunteers.
Game is set to tip-off at 6:30 pm Central and will air on the SEC Network.