Kentucky runs away from Vanderbilt after hot shooting night, 69-54

Kentucky shot 57% from the floor to overmatch the shorthanded Commodores on Tuesday night.

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Nikita Rohila

Ezra Manjon goes up for a layup against the Kentucky Wildcats on Tuesday January, 24 at Memorial Gymnasium (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia).

Bryce Smith, Sports Editor

Vanderbilt (10-10, 3-4) and Kentucky (14-6, 5-3) met for the 201st time in each school’s history on Tuesday night, as the Wildcats won their 14th in a row over the Commodores, 69-54. Kentucky led for nearly 35 minutes and controlled the pace of play behind a hot shooting night and a balanced scoring attack that saw five Wildcats finish in double figures. 

“Probably as disappointed as I’ve been in a postgame since I’ve been here,” Jerry Stackhouse said after the loss. “I thought we had selfish play to begin the game and it bled over to our defense. Everybody was trying to do it on their own.

The contest started out fast as the team’s traded early baskets in front of packed crowd at Memorial Gymnasium. Paul Lewis — making his second consecutive start — opened up the scoring for the Commodores with a scooped-in driving layup . The freshman point guard led Vanderbilt in first half points with seven. 

Tyrin Lawrence knotted the score at 4 apiece after getting into the paint himself and converting a chance at the basket. After a Jacob Toppin turnover, Jordan Wright earned Vanderbilt its first lead of the night after drawing a foul from superstar big man Oscar Tshwiebe and knocking down two free throws to make it 6-4.

Those two, though would be Wright’s only points of the night as he played just four minutes in the second half, the result of a coach’s decision. 

“Straight coach’s decision,” Stackhouse said of the benching afterwards. “I’ll play our young guys and watch them get better before I take lackluster effort and selfish play from any of our older guys. It’s not who we’re going to be — it’s not sustainable for what I envisioned for our program.”

A ferocious alley-oop from Lawrence extended the Commodore advantage to 8-4 — their biggest lead of the game. Lawrence leaped for a lofty lob pass off the hands of Lewis to finish the slam and ignite the home crowd early in the contest. 

The Wildcats relied on a balanced attack to get themselves back in the game with buckets from Tshweibe, Toppin and Antonio Reeves that allowed the Wildcats take a 19-17 lead. A three-pointer from Malik Dia — one of two the freshman hit in the first half — pushed Vanderbilt back out in front, 20-19, at the 7-minute mark. 

After another Tshweibe layup, Kentucky would fail to relinquish the lead for the rest of the half as the game slowed considerably. A 5-0 Wildcat run pushed the score to 27-22 in favor of Kentucky before Emmanuel Ansong stopped the surge to bring Vanderbilt back to a three-point deficit at 27-24. 

Kentucky responded with a 9-3 run to give themselves a nine-point advantage headed into the locker room, 36-27. Toppin led the way for the Wildcats in the first half with 8 points and 6 rebounds. 

Coach John Calpari’s crew built on that momentum coming out of the halftime break as they jumped out to a 48-30 lead after going on a 12-3 in the half’s opening four minutes. Freshman Cason Wallace hit two corner threes to spur the Wildcat run. 

Kentucky would mostly hold the Commodores at bay from that point, though Vanderbilt began to creep back in after an 8-0 run from Dia. The Nashville native hit a spinning layup and canned back-to-back three-pointers to bring Vanderbilt back within 11 points, down 56-45 with 9:53 to play. Dia finished with a team-high 14 points, a career-high. 

Malik Dia drives against the Kentucky Wildcats on Tuesday January, 24 at Memorial Gymnasium (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia).
Malik Dia drives against the Kentucky Wildcats on Tuesday January, 24 at Memorial Gymnasium (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia). (Nikita Rohila)

Again, the Wildcats responded with a big run — this one a 9-2 run over nearly four minutes of game time. Six straight points from Tshweibe gave Kentucky a 65-47 advantage with just over six minutes to play. The scoring slowed in the game’s waning minutes as Kentucky finished the game out with a 69-53 victory. The result registered as Vanderbilt’s fifth home loss of the season. 

“We probably had as lively of a building as we’ve had,” Stackhouse said of the atmosphere at Memorial. “I don’t know if we put too much pressure on ourselves playing at home…I can’t put my finger on it right now, but it’s something we gotta correct.”

The Wildcats shot 57% from the field and 37.5% from deep to vanquish the Commodores. Vanderbilt managed just 32.7% shooting from the field and 35.5% from deep, by comparison. 

“I just think we didn’t move the ball,” Stackhouse said. “We had five assists. We held the ball too long whenever we got the switches onto Tshweibe, everybody was like ‘I’m going to take the 5 guy’ and that’s not what we talked about doing.”

Vanderbilt will return to action on Saturday, Jan. 29 against the Texas A&M Aggies in College Station at 7:30 p.m.