Date story published: Wednesday, January 11, 2006
While ESPN viewers who love offense probably switched to the more riveting action on the Home & Garden channel, Vanderbilt beat Kentucky 57-52 last night.
Whatever its artistic merits, a first victory over UK in Rupp Arena had to be sweet for Vandy. The Commodores had been 0-28 in Rupp against the home team. Kentucky's continuing struggle to score helped Vandy become the last Southeastern Conference team to win here and spoil Randolph Morris' highly anticipated return.
"Well, obviously, we're thrilled not having to answer that question any more about the streak and all that," Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said. "Unfortunately, that may be one of the better parts of the game."
Stallings called it a slugfest.
UK Coach Tubby Smith hoped the game would help Kentucky forget the 73-46 loss at Kansas on Saturday. Instead, he acknowledged how Vandy delivered a body blow to UK's confidence.
When asked whether he harbored concerns about UK's confidence level, Smith said, "Oh yeah, oh yeah. A lot of concerns. ... shooting like we are."
Kentucky shot 35.3 percent overall, which included 5-for-20 from three-point range. Not counting Ravi Moss, who hit a career-high four three-pointers, the Cats were 1-for-12 from beyond the arc.
Still, Kentucky, which lost a second straight game for the first time since Jan. 5 and 9, 2002, had chances. The best came with barely a minute left. Having whittled down a 14-point deficit to 50-48, the Cats had Morris posted up and calling for the ball.
But Moss, who scored 14 of his team-high 16 points in the second half, rushed a three-point attempt that Vandy's Derrick Byars tipped into an airball. Rajon Rondo said he threw the pass to Moss because he believed Moss had a better angle to feed Morris.
"I should have passed (to Morris)," Moss said.
Smith described the play as typifying UK's continued labor to pass crisply and get high-percentage shots.
"We're really struggling with passing the ball," Smith said. "We've been struggling all year long."
Rather than trying to work time off the clock, Byars, a transfer from Virginia, raced downcourt and put up a gutsy pull-up shot that swished.
Kentucky (10-5) got one more chance. With Vandy ahead 55-52, a UK trap forced a turnover.
Joe Crawford fired a three-pointer. He missed, making him 0-for-5 against Vandy and 0-for-15 from three-point range in the last three games.
Morris scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds in his belated debut.
Shan Foster led a balanced Vandy attack with 16 points.
Kentucky held Vanderbilt scoreless for an eight-minute stretch in the first half. Yet UK's continuing struggle to score enabled Vandy to lead 23-20 at the break.
The 20 points marked a bit of progress: The Cats scored only 19 in the first half at Kansas.
But UK needed a fluke basket late in the half to get to 20. After Vandy tipped a ball out of bounds with five seconds left on the shot clock, Patrick Sparks found himself more than 20 feet from the basket with little time to do anything but catch and shoot. His throw swished with 1:47 left.
The basket was Sparks' first since the Central Florida game on Jan. 3. It was his first three-pointer since the Ohio game on Dec. 30.
Kentucky needed fluke shots -- any shots -- this night. Sparks' three was the only shot the Cats made in nine attempts from beyond the arc in the first half. The eight straight misses to start the game extended UK's futility to 3-for-32 in the last game and a half.
Vanderbilt shot even worse (6-for-20 for 30 percent). The Commodores went scoreless from the 15:29 mark to 7:29. In that span, Vandy missed eight shots and committed four turnovers. A 10-2 early lead melted to a single point, 10-9.
UK only led once -- 42-41 with 6:48 left. And the Rupp crowd voiced its frustration early. Boos could be heard when UK went scoreless on its first three possessions.
Then Morris got off the bench. The big man replaced starting center Lukasz Obrzut at the first television timeout (the 15:59 mark). He immediately put into action the many words from teammates about a more spirited effort in practice.
Morris scored the first time he got the ball in the low post, converting an up-and-under move against Ted Skuchas for a five-foot bank shot.
In his first six possessions, Morris followed his basket by getting a hand on the ball, committing a turnover, drawing two fouls, feeding Bobby Perry from the low post for a 15-footer (alas, Perry missed) and tipping a rebound to a teammate.
The second half brought no immediate scoring punch from UK. The Cats missed their first seven shots and didn't make a basket until 12:26 remained and Crawford flipped in a heavily contested leaner in the lane. That reduced a one-time 37-23 Vandy lead to 39-29.
Defense again gave Kentucky a chance to win. The Cats held Vandy to one basket for a six-minute stretch. In that time, UK closed to within 39-37 on a Moss three-pointer.
The Rupp Arena record for fewest points scored by Kentucky -- 41 in the 76-41 loss to LSU on Jan. 18, 1987 -- seemed within reach with less than 11 minutes left.