1. Memorial Gym has become my favorite place in Nashville. As a hoops junkie from the Tar Heel state, getting the opportunity to step foot in this historic venue is quite a joy. It’s even more of a joy on afternoons like this where a near capacity crowd is in the game from the jump. I read an article earlier this week in the Tennessean about the attendance at Commodore games being on track to be the lowest in 53 years and how the hope was that the Kentucky game and subsequent arrival of ‘Big Blue Nation’ would help raise those numbers. A crowd of 11, 510 on Tuesday night for the Tennessee game followed by a near capacity crowd of 13,389 today might not raise those figures high enough for when Mississippi State and Missouri come to town, but they provided the type of atmosphere that has helped coin the phrase ‘Memorial Magic’ and made this a place I look forward to coming to every week.
2. Kentucky reserve point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander started in place of the injured Quade Green, missing his second straight game with a back injury. Gilgeous-Alexander, on the season, has been the Wildcats best perimeter defender, but in recent weeks has shown his prowess on the offensive end. Gilgeous-Alexander had his coming out party with 24 points in the 90-61 rout of archrival Louisville. In his last five games coming into today, Gilgeous-Alexander was averaging 16.4 points per game in 35 minutes a game. Gilgeous-Alexander proved to be a problem for much of the afternoon for Vanderbilt, scoring 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting in the first half. For the game, Gilgeous-Alexander lead the way with 22 points on 7 of 11 from the field, including 7 for 10 from the charity stripe, all coming in 39 minutes.
3. Vanderbilt kept the taller and more athletic Wildcats from holding the rebounding advantage in the first half. Both teams collected 18 rebounds, while Vandy had a 7 to 5 edge on the offensive glass. Despite that number, the Commodores were only able to score three second-chance points.
4. The three-point streak continued for Vandy thanks to Clevon Brown, who came into the game shooting a gaudy 3 for 22 from behind the arc. Brown’s trey would be the lone basket of its kind in the first half for the Commodores as the team shot only 1 for 11. Kentucky, which typically is a man-to-man team defensively, came out for most of the half in an extended 2-3 zone. The length and size of Kentucky’s guards, most notably Gilgeous-Alexander, forced Vanderbilt to settle for deep, contested three-point attempts. The Commodores nearly got away with shooting poorly from deep but went scoreless in the final 2:50 of the half watching the Wildcat lead extend from three to nine, holding a 36-29 lead at the half. Kentucky came out man-to-man for the second half but that only yielded slightly better results for the Commodores as they shot 5 for 14 from three in the half, and 6 for 25 on the day. That’s not going to be good enough against a team with the talent of Kentucky, nor most of the teams the Commodores will face the rest of the way in the SEC.
5. Good minutes off the bench from Payton Willis and Joe Toye, particularly in the second half. The pair only combined for 12 points, but their impact was felt far more on the defensive end and in rebounding, not to exclude the immeasurable statistic of effort which both displayed. Toye had a driving basket and one that tied the game at 59 with 5:01 left in the game, while Willis contributed by pushing the tempo off his defensive rebounding and a pair of steals.
6. Vanderbilt made a ploy at a last-ditch effort at a comeback when LaChance was fouled on a three-point shot that just missed with 29 seconds to play down 70-66. LaChance, an 89 percent foul shooter, missed all three of his attempts effectively ending any chance of Memorial Magic happening this afternoon.
7. Another close game, another close loss for Vanderbilt. The Commodores may be 6-11 overall and 1-4 in the SEC, but this team has been in essentially every game they’ve played on their home floor against a top opponent. The road efforts haven’t nearly offered the same results seen at home, but you have to give this team credit for the way they compete on a nightly basis at Memorial Gym. I’m still perplexed on how a team that was able to pull out as many close games as they were late last season on way to an NCAA Tournament berth and that boasts three seniors hasn’t been able to carry over that mojo. I know, new year, new team but you’d think that having been in this many close games early this season that eventually they’d be able to pull one out. The road doesn’t get any easier with trips from TCU, Florida, Texas A&M and Missouri still to come, but there’s little doubt that this team will be prepared and will compete when the time comes. Next up, a trip to Starkville to face a young and improved Mississippi State team.
8. Kentucky passed yet another road test in front of a crowd that was far more forgiving, in terms of the amount of blue that was able to find its way into the stands today, than what they’ll typically face on the road. I don’t know what John Calipari see’s in practice and how much he values the play of Green, but someone needs to explain to me how Gilgeous-Alexander, who I think is their best player, isn’t starting. Either way, if he’s going to come off the bench when Green is healthy then I feel bad for the rest of the SEC. The Wildcats are now 14-3 overall and 4-1 in the league and still look to be the part in potential regular-season champions.