Date story published: Thursday, January 13, 2005
In a game Kentucky absolutely, positively had to have, freshman Rajon Rondo made sure it was gotten.
Rondo excelled at both ends of the floor as UK continued its Rupp Arena mastery over Vanderbilt with a 69-54 victory last night. Rondo broke or tied seven career records as Kentucky extended its Rupp Arena record to 28-0 against Vandy.
Maybe more importantly, he helped provide a bracing tonic after back-to-back body blows earlier this week: the home loss to Kansas on Sunday and the departure of fellow freshman Joe Crawford the next day.
Besides scoring a career-high 18 points, Rondo also spearheaded the defense that limited Vandy's point guard, Mario Moore, to nine points on 2-for-10 shooting.
"You saw just a glimpse of what he's all about," teammate Bobby Perry said of Rondo. "He's awesome, one of the best players I've ever seen."
Kentucky, 11-2 overall and 2-0 in the Southeastern Conference, whipped the league's hottest team. Vandy came into the game as the SEC leader in three-point shooting (52.6 percent) and scoring defense (59.5 points per game).
UK's defense achieved a difficult double. The Cats took away Vandy's patented backdoor layups and, unbelievably, limited the Commodores to only four two-point shots in the second half. While taking the basket area away from Vandy, UK also held the Commodores to 9-for-30 three-point shooting.
"Really, the story of the game was their defense was a lot better than our defense was," Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings said. Its seven-game winning streak snapped, Vandy fell to 11-5 overall and 2-1 in the SEC.
Rondo sprinkled eye-catching plays throughout the game. Besides the points, he set career highs with two blocks, eight baskets, 11 shots, three three-point attempts and 34 minutes. He equaled a career-high with one three-pointer.
"Real good, real good," Moore said. "He's a real top-notch player. He's quick, a penetrator, and he's got a real knack for the game.
"There's something about him. He's level-headed. He doesn't let things get to him."
Kentucky, which shot a season-high 57.8 percent, got off to a slow start in more ways than one. The Cats scored only six points in the first 9 1/2 minutes.
Yet the style of offense UK played almost dictated a low-scoring affair. The Cats showed a patience long ordered by Smith. UK took only seven shots in that opening nine-plus minutes.
Vandy didn't blaze out of the gate, but the Commodores twice built seven-point leads midway through the half.
Rondo and a burst of three-point shooting sparked life in Kentucky's team and Rupp Arena.
UK erased Vandy's last seven-point lead (20-13) with an 11-1 run that included three straight three-pointers. Kelenna Azubuike and Patrick Sparks sandwiched treys around a three-pointer by Rondo.
Vandy's Jason Holwerda acknowledged being "a little bit" surprised by Rondo's three-pointer. It was only his fourth of the season and second since Nov. 30.
"He's going to be a real nice player in this league," Holwerda said.
Rondo, who matched Chuck Hayes' team-high nine first-half points, made his most memorable offensive plays on the drive.
A full-court driving layup caused Rupp Arena to erupt in cheers. After rebounding a Corey Smith three-point miss, Rondo weaved upcourt, crossing over on his dribble three times before knifing through two defenders for a layup that put Kentucky ahead 27-23.
Later in the half, Rondo again scored on a solo fast break. A hesitation dribble froze Holwerda, then Rondo continued on to the basket.
"He can get by anybody any moment he wants to," Perry said.
To Stallings, it seemed Rondo wanted to a lot.
After noting his defensive game plan emphasized stopping the drive, the Vandy coach said, "He drove and drove and drove and drove. He's still driving."
Vandy's cold shooting prevented a second-half rally. The Commodores missed nine of their first 12 three-point shots (and 11 of their first 15 overall).
Moore's only second-half points were two meaningless free throws with 2:15 left.
"Everybody has a bad night," Moore said of Vandy's misfires. "Michael Jordan. Larry Bird. Every great player you can think of has a bad night. This was ours."
VEXED IN LEX
Vanderbilt's loss last night was its 30th straight in Lexington and its 28th straight in Rupp Arena (the first two were in Memorial Coliseum.) The scores are below: