Vanderbilt returns home seeking revenge over Kentucky

After winning their second SEC game of the season, the Commodores hope to keep up their winning ways while also avenging their early defeat to the Wildcats.

Disu+goes+up+for+a+block+in+a+game+against+Kentucky+in+2020.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FHunter+Long%29.

Disu goes up for a block in a game against Kentucky in 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long).

Luke Mukundan, Staff Writer

The Vanderbilt Commodores will return to Memorial Gymnasium on Wednesday night (7:00 p.m. CST) to face the Kentucky Wildcats for the second time this season.

As the season winds down, neither team can be pleased with the way that they’ve performed up to this point. Vanderbilt is a meager 6-10 with a 2-8 conference record, the latter of which ranks last in the conference. Kentucky, usually a stalwart within the Southeastern Conference (SEC), has fallen well short of its lofty expectations. Despite a strong incoming class, the Wildcats have a woeful 6-13 overall record, despite faring in conference play with a 5-7 record.

Vanderbilt does come into the midweek matchup on an upswing though, as the Commodores handily defeated the Mississippi State Bulldogs 72-51 for only their second SEC win of the season. Kentucky, after losing four straight games, ended their losing streak with a 82-80 win over the Auburn Tigers.

Wednesday’s game marks the second and final matchup between Vanderbilt and Kentucky this season, following their 77-74 matchup on Jan. 5. Despite a 40-33 Vanderbilt lead after the first half, Kentucky was able to close the gap and maintain a three-point margin heading into the game’s waning moments. On the Commodores’ final possession, they had two different good looks to potentially tie up the game, but neither Trey Thomas nor Maxwell Evans’ shot attempts fell through the hoop.

Most of the struggles which have defined Kentucky’s uncharacteristically mediocre season can be chalked up to a stagnant offense. The Wildcats average 69.2 points per game, securing the second-worst offense in the SEC ahead of only Texas A&M. Moreover, Kentucky has been ice-cold from behind the three-point line for most of the season, converting on just 32.7% of their three-point attempts on a mere 18 attempts per game.

The Wildcats came into the season expecting to be able to depend on a duo of star freshmen guards, Brandon Boston Jr. and Terrence Clarke. Unfortunately, the two have struggled with consistency and injuries throughout the season, respectively. Clarke won’t be a factor against Vanderbilt, as it’s unlikely that he’ll suit up for the Wildcats again any time soon. However, Boston Jr. may very well be turning a corner for Kentucky, as he’s scored in double digits in five of Kentucky’s last seven games.

Similarly, Vanderbilt will  rely heavily on its backcourt in Wednesday’s matchup. The entire offense runs through point guard Scotty Pippen Jr., who averages 20.3 points and 5.4 assists per game, both good for second in the SEC. Moreover, if Vanderbilt hopes to win, Maxwell Evans will have to play a huge role. In Vanderbilt’s two SEC wins this season, Evans scored 20 and 29 points, significantly more than his season average of 7.4 points per game. Conversely, in the first matchup of the season against Kentucky, Evans went scoreless. The Commodores are hoping that they will be getting the high-scoring Max Evans this time around against Kentucky.

Perhaps no matchup proves as key to the game as the one between the two teams’ frontcourts. In the first meeting between these two teams, Kentucky abused an undermanned Vanderbilt frontcourt. Kentucky big man Oliver Sarr scored a game-high 24 points and went to the free throw line at will, converting 14 of 17 attempts. In that game, Vanderbilt was without starting center Clevon Brown and had to depend on the likes of forward Dylan Disu and reserve center Quentin Millora-Brown to step up in his place. 

Thankfully for Vanderbilt, Brown will be back for Wednesday’s matchup and his defensive presence cannot be overstated. In Vanderbilt’s win over Mississippi State, Brown led all players with five steals and held his own inside the paint. Playing alongside Disu, a tenacious rebounder who currently leads the SEC with 8.4 rebounds per game, the Commodore’s frontcourt looks to be far better equipped to take on the Wildcats.

Vanderbilt was neck-and-neck with Kentucky before finally falling in defeat when the two teams last played in Lexington. If the Commodores hope to reverse their recent fortune against the Wildcats, they’re going to need their backcourt to shine and for the frontcourt to put up much more of a fight than they did last time around.

Should Vanderbilt succeed at this goal, then it’s very possible that Vanderbilt will win two consecutive SEC games for the first time since the end of the 2019-2020 season.