Behind Enemy Bylines, Basketball Edition: Kentucky Wildcats

Prior to Vanderbilt’s highly anticipated game against Kentucky, The Hustler went Behind Enemy Bylines with Cole Parke from the Kentucky Kernel.


Josh Rehders

Jordan Wright helped up by a slew of teammates versus Pittsburgh on Dec. 7, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders)

Luke Rollfinke, Staff Writer

After defeating Georgia on Saturday, the Vanderbilt Commodores (10-9, 3-3 SEC) will return to Memorial Gymnasium on Tuesday to take on the Kentucky Wildcats (13-6, 4-3 SEC) at 8 p.m. CST.

The Commodores are no stranger to tough matchups, having faced ranked opponents in four of their last five games, and Tuesday will pose yet another challenge. While Kentucky is currently unranked, they are still a perennial college basketball “blue blood” that have won three consecutive games, including a seven-point victory over No. 4 Tennessee. Without forwards Liam Robbins and Lee Dort, a strong defensive effort will be needed to take down the Wildcats for the first time since 2016. The Commodores will likely rely on another outstanding coaching job from Jerry Stackhouse to do so.

The Hustler went Behind Enemy Bylines and interviewed Cole Parke, the sports editor for the Kentucky Kernel, to preview Tuesday’s matchup.

The Hustler: Kentucky has had an up-and-down start to the season, beating tough opponents in Tennessee and Texas A&M but losing to bottom-dwellers South Carolina. How would you evaluate the team’s performance up to this point?

Cole Parke: I think it’s important to view this season in several segments. The South Carolina game was by far rock bottom. Since then, though, the team has had a bit of a resurgence, winning three straight games, including the one against Tennessee that you mentioned. As a whole, it’s hard to view this season as anything but disappointing after starting the season ranked No. 4 overall, but if you focus on just recent form, the last three wins have shown a lot of promise.

Five of Kentucky’s top six scorers this season are seniors. How much of a factor do you think that the veteran presence of some of these players has contributed to the team’s recent three-game winning streak?

I think it’s been critical for the team to have so many veterans. Kentucky’s players have been very open about the fact that, after the loss to South Carolina, they called a team meeting and really let some things out and figured things out as a team. It’s been described by everyone who was there as a very emotional meeting. I think stuff like that only happens when you have true leaders on your team and players who have that kind of power to call the entire team together at once and say ‘We’re going to fix this right now.’ That ability to see things through and keep calm was huge in Knoxville, especially after Kentucky started the game in an 8-0 hole.

Besides the seniors, true freshman Cason Wallace has been one of Kentucky’s biggest contributors this year and has even been labeled as a potential first round draft pick. What skills does he possess that have made him such a highly-touted prospect?

Everyone on the team will tell you the same thing about Cason: ‘He doesn’t play like a freshman.’ The thing that makes him so special is his mentality, seeing the game and playing like a junior or senior as opposed to a true freshman. He’s a real leader on the court and you can tell that the entire team really respects him. He’s not perfect by any means — no one on the team is — but Cason is a difference-maker in nearly every game he’s in. He can run the point, is capable of making 3-pointers, doesn’t fear driving into the lane and can really command an offense.

Given that Vanderbilt will be without both Liam Robbins and Lee Dort for this game, how do you think the Wildcats will attack the Commodores offensively?

I definitely think Vanderbilt will be hurt by the absence of Robbins and Dort. I remember last season in Nashville when Oscar Tshiebwe really took over and scored 30 points to lead the team to victory. That said, it’s hard to truly predict how Kentucky will attack the Commodores. It really depends on how many shots are falling. In the win over Texas A&M, Kentucky attempted more 3-pointers than it has since 2011, proving that if CJ Fredrick, Antonio Reeves, and guys like Cason Wallace or Chris Livingston are on that day, they can beat anybody with deep balls. If the 3’s aren’t falling, then I’d expect Kentucky to start relying much more on a guy like Oscar to have a great game or really driving hard at the rim with speedy guys like Sahvir Wheeler.

What is your score prediction for the game?

I don’t see any scenario in which it isn’t close. I want to put my money (metaphorically, thanks to journalism ethics and Kentucky state law) on Kentucky, mostly because of the team’s recent form, but a Vanderbilt victory would not shock me if I’m being honest. Seeing Robbins out is really what pushes me over the edge in picking Kentucky. I’ll say the Wildcats win by eight in a relatively low-scoring, gritty game.