Kentucky needed a win Friday night against Vanderbilt to feel safe going into Selection Sunday. Vandy, the 10 seed in the tournament, was the ideal opponent for Kentucky on paper, and a win over the Commodores seemed imminent, we assumed.
We were wrong.
The Cats lost to Vandy, 64-48,
in front of an electric Bridgestone Arena crowd consisting mostly of Kentucky fans. It was another one of those games where Kentucky never got it going and lacked the toughness and effort Coach Cal demands. Willie Cauley-Stein said after the game that those performances are reoccurring and seem to be happening every two or three games.
In his postgame press conference, John Calipari said, "We were stabbing ourselves in the eye."
That sounds about right. I guess we should talk about it...
On the KSR pregame show, we spoke in depth about how Harrow was the key to cruising past Vanderbilt and making a run in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments. The point guard fuels the team and Kentucky has played well whenever Harrow is at his best.
Friday night, however, Ryan Harrow was far from his best. The sophomore point guard played his worst game as a Wildcat on a night when Kentucky needed him most. The aggression was there, which has been his problem at times in the past, but he just couldn't put the ball in the basket. He finished the game with an atrocious 2-for-15 clip from the field for four points along with four turnovers. The majority of those missed looks came right around the rim, as Harrow struggled to finish on, by my count, ten layup attempts.
After the game, a teary-eyed Harrow took full responsibility for his team's loss. "It's on me," he told reporters in the locker room. "I'm the reason we lost. There's nothing else to say. If I would've played well, we would've won."
Harrow has faced criticism all season and it will only be worse after Friday night's loss. Regardless of how frustrated you are with his poor performance and spotty play this year, you almost have to feel for the kid right now as this could very well be the way he's remembered at Kentucky. It was an awful night for him and no one is more disappointed in Ryan Harrow than Ryan Harrow.
Vanderbilt held a lead over Kentucky for 38 of the game's 40 minutes, but there was a stretch halfway through the second half when it looked like the Cats could claw back and make it a ballgame. After trailing by as many as 21 points, a quick 10-0 run capped off by a nasty Archie Goodwin dunk blew the roof off Bridgestone Arena and forced Vanderbilt to call a timeout. Vandy responded out of the break with a quick layup and a three-pointer off an offensive rebound to silence Big Blue Nation and cut off UK's momentum, but the Cats would still get a couple more looks on the other end to try to slice away at the deficit.
However, Kentucky failed to capitalize on the opportunities Vandy was handing out as that promising 10-0 run suddenly became an afterthought. There was a stretch where Julius Mays missed a three-pointer at the top of the key; Alex Poythress missed the front end on a one-and-one; Mays missed another three-pointer; Harrow missed a jumper; Willie missed the first of a one-and-one; Harrow missed a layup; and Archie Goodwin missed a wide open three-pointer. That's seven consecutive possessions where Kentucky could've made a move while Vandy was struggling on the other end.
Field goal percentage.
Vanderbilt: 50% from the field, 47.1% on three-pointers
Kentucky: 34% from the field, 28% on three-pointers
Simply put, Vanderbilt hit shots and Kentucky didn't.
Pat yourself on the back, Kentucky fans.
Although the results don't show it, the fans who made it inside Bridgestone Arena provided a great atmosphere for the Cats. The crowd was 99.999999% blue and the energy was high throughout most of the game, until the unfortunate outcome became apparent.
Bridgestone Arena, the SEC, and the city of Nashville are about to taking a beating in numbers once Big Blue Nation heads home. That arena will be empty for the championship game.
After seeing nearly every bubble team go down this weekend, confidence was high going into Friday night's game. But after losing by 16 points to a team like Vanderbilt, Kentucky may find itself on the outside looking in. It's not looking great for the Wildcats and the NIT is a very real possibility.
Calipari said he hopes his team is the best of the bad,
Alex Poythress: Six shots in his second attempt at a strong homecoming performance in Nashville.
Kyle Wiltjer: Zero three-pointers. One could argue that Wiltjer's shooting was the second key to the game, behind Harrow.
Archie Goodwin played well but his free throw shooting could make a grown man cry. He's now shooting 62% from the line on the season after missing three of his five attempts against Vanderbilt.
Kentucky shot 50% from the line (8-for-16) as a team.
Only two players reach double-figures, everyone else had seven or fewer.
There are at least three Kentucky players who can't guard anyone. That makes Calipari's decision to go from zone, which was working, back to man-to-man even more puzzling. That's a move he must certainly regret.
Let's sleep it off and dig deeper into Kentucky's postseason possibilities tomorrow morning.