Dores’ Uninspiring Performance Leads to 14th Straight Loss to the Wildcats

The Kentucky Wildcats came to town Tuesday night to take on Vanderbilt in a matchup Vandy fans were looking forward to as a measuring stick to see how far this team has come. The result… turned out to be not so pretty. Even with Kentucky’s slow start to the season, they are still very talented and well-coached as always under Calipari, but it seemed to be Vandy’s lack of answers for the Wildcats that proved head-scratching. The game started tight going back and forth with Kentucky having a 29-27 advantage just under three minutes to go in the 1st, but the Wildcats going into the half started a 9-0 run and the game was essentially over from there. The nine-point deficit was the closest the ‘Dores had it for the rest of the game as the defense could not get stops and the offense was inconsistent. Kentucky finished the contest with a 69-53 victory getting to 14-6 (5-3) on the year and Vanderbilt drops to 10-10 (3-4). 

A few storylines came about as the game went on but the biggest for Vanderbilt was the coming out party for freshman Malik Dia. The big man got hot from deep going 4-5 from three including draining a step-back heat check from the corner. There were not many bright spots on the offensive end for the ‘Dores but he most certainly was one. He has shown since his playing time has increased that he is not afraid to get his shots up and when he sees one go in his confidence soars from there.

The Jerry Stackhouse/fan base relationship has been a rollercoaster so far this season (and really his whole tenure as the head coach). Tonight was no different coming off of a big win at Georgia, fans seemed to be buying in, and tonight that support may have taken a hit. His rotations have been a huge question mark in my opinion playing some odd lineups together, but tonight he really shook things up at some inopportune times. After condensing the playing time of some guys in their previous game, he decided to effectively bench Jordan Wright and Myles Stute down the stretch and mentioning not liking their effort in his postgame presser. Would playing those two guys, two really key guys, have changed the outcome of the game? Probably not. But I will say outside of Dia, no one on the offensive end was really providing much at all and when you cut the game to 12 with nine minutes to go, that might have been the time to give them a stern pep talk and send them back in to see if you can make a run in a big home conference game. I do not know what was said between the players and coaches, but from the outside looking in this was an odd time to essentially give up the game down the stretch. This team has shown 2nd half promise all year and I would have liked to see them have that opportunity against a really good Kentucky team. 

With all of that being said, one glaring observation is this team needs to figure some things out on the defensive end of the court. Coming into the week they were 2nd to last in defensive rating in the conference and tonight it felt like Kentucky could not miss. The Wildcats shot 56% from the field and 38% from 3pt range. When your best players are not playing well and you do not have much scoring outside of your top couple of guys, it is nearly impossible to take down a team shooting at those clips. Vanderbilt as a whole is a good offensive team there is no denying that, but when you have your off-shooting nights you need to at least have some ability to get stops. This team without Robbins and Dort does not have a real shot-blocking presence and they were beaten off the dribble far too often tonight. Even Ezra Manjon, who I have highlighted recently for his on-ball defense, was getting beat off the dribble at a high clip tonight. Allowing drives in the lane leads to open kick outs for three-point looks. When so much of your defensive focus is stopping Oscar Tshiebwe and packing the paint, getting beat off the dribble so often is a deadly recipe. 

I will give this team credit and say that every time there is a less-than-desirable performance they do seem to respond well in the following games. They will definitely need to pick it up this Saturday when they travel to College Station to take on Texas A&M (13-6, 5-1) who is a tough matchup at home. I look forward to seeing what shake-ups Coach Stackhouse makes to get more out of an offense that looks for some more consistency.

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