Kentucky holds off Vandy in first SEC road test

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 11, 2014 

NASHVILLE — With Kentucky and Vanderbilt entangled in a game thick with missed shots and turnovers, this renewal of a Southeastern Conference rivalry was played in Muzak City. Melodic, it wasn't.

Kentucky prevailed 71-62 despite barely making 40 percent of its shots and having to deal with a recurrence of cramps sidelining Julius Randle. The Cats missed free throws and, on occasion, made things more difficult than they needed to be ... as a freshman-dependent team is wont to do.

"We're still not there," Coach John Calipari said. "But I look around the country, I don't see anybody there. So this is all good. I like my team. I like our progress."

UK (12-3 overall, 2-0 SEC) needed resolve to subdue a Vandy team that lost its leading scorer (Eric McClellan) earlier in the week, then became further crippled this day when its new leading scorer, Rod Odom, got in foul trouble.

Calipari's call earlier in the week for more transition points went unfulfilled. But, the Cats said, they intended to engage Vandy in a half-court competition.

"One of our things coming in," said Willie Cauley-Stein, who led UK with 15 points. "Coach was saying we start off real sluggish. So we've got to start grinding it out instead of trying to fly up and down. Let the game come to us, and then start (running)."

Vandy (8-6, 0-2) controlled the tempo and made it a half-court game. But 16 turnovers killed the Commodores' chances of winning.

"We played hard enough," Coach Kevin Stallings said. "We didn't play well enough."

Neither team shot well enough to excite its respective fans, who seemed to split Memorial Gym evenly. In the first half, UK and Vandy combined to shoot 37 percent (20-for-54), which included 5-for-20 from three-point range. For the game, the teams made only 12 of 42 three-point shots.

Jarrod Polson, a 28.6-percent three-point shooter coming into this season (6-for-21), made two treys down the stretch of the first half. That made him 3-for-3 this season and helped give the Cats a 30-22 halftime lead.

"I feel pretty confident in my three-point shot," he said. "... I just saw an opportunity and took it."

Vandy, which came into the game ranked No. 12 nationally in three-point defense (27.9 percent), only committed five first-half fouls.

The problem was Odom had three of them. Odom (13.8 points per game) picked up the third getting into position on a driving Andrew Harrison. Stallings stomped his foot in protest, resulting in a long look from a referee but no technical foul.

Odom picked up his fourth foul jockeying for a rebound with 17:46 left in the second half. He finished with a season-low five points.

A breakout by either team didn't happen through the first nine minutes of the second half. With UK ahead 36-31, the teams combined to miss five shots and commit four turnovers in a 21/2-minute span.

Stallings called this the key stretch of the game. "The plays we tried to make, they were there," he said of Vandy's four straight turnovers. "But we were late delivering the ball. Which is the way it goes.'

Randle, whose 11 rebounds in the first half fueled UK's 41-28 advantage on the boards, played only eight minutes in the second half. When he returned to the bench, Kentucky led 55-43 with 7:48 left. A 3-for-9 three-point shooting "spree" helped give the Cats a double-digit cushion.

A technical foul gave life to a Vandy comeback. Referee Ted Valentine called a delay-of-game technical on Alex Poythress for touching the ball after dunking. UK had received a delay-of-game warning in the first half.

Vandy reaped a five-point trip downcourt to reduce UK's lead to 60-52. Kyle Fuller made both technical free throws. Then Dai-Jon Parker made a three-pointer.

But the Commodores got no closer than seven thereafter.

Kentucky's only transition points came after 37 minutes of play.

But those two points capped the victory. Cauley-Stein stripped a Vandy player at the top of the key and drove to a dunk. It put the Cats ahead 65-52 with 2:50 left.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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