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‘Cats Keep Rolling in Home Finale, 93-77 Over Vanderbilt

Graham Shepherd

 The No. 15 Kentucky Wildcats finished out their regular season home schedule on Wednesday night against the Vanderbilt Commadores on Senior Night. The ‘Cats recognized three Seniors in the festivities in Antonio Reeves, Tre Mitchell, and Kareem Watkins. Graduate Senior Brennan Canada also experienced his last game at Rupp Arena but did not go through Senior Day after participating last year. The ‘Cats got off to a very slow start in the first half and didn’t take their first lead until about 5-minutes left in the half. Dillingham did not score until 4-minutes remaining in the half and ended that 4-minute stretch with 12-points to end up leading Kentucky in first half scoring. The ‘Cats were also slow out of the gate to start the second half but found their stride midway through the half. Their lead swelled to as much as 19 but the ‘Cats allowed the Commadores to hang around throughout the game. The ‘Cats finished the game strong and went on to win comfortable, 93-77. Rupp Arena was in good form throughout the night, leading stretches and fueling the ‘Cats with energy when they needed the pickup.

Vanderbilt entered the game with an 8-21 record on the season and 3-13 in conference play. The Commadores are led by Ezra Manjon (14.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 3.6 APG), Tyrin Lawrence (13.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.4 APG), and Ven-Allen Lubin (11.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG). Vanderbilt is ranked No. 221 in the NET rankings.

Kentucky entered the game on a 3-game win streak and winners of 5 of their last 6. Kentucky began the night with a 21-8 record and 11-5 in SEC play, currently sitting at the 5-seed in next weeks SEC tournament. The ‘Cats are ranked No. 20 in the latest NET rankings.

The spread for Wednesday nights matchup versus Vanderbilt was -17.5 (UK). The Over/Under points total was set at 161.5.

The starting lineup for Kentucky featured DJ Wagner, Kareem Watkins, Antonio Reeves, Tre Mitchell, and Ugonna Onyenso.

Game Recap:

First Half

Vanderbilt won the tip but Onyenso blocked the first shot of the game. Vanderbilt came back and scored the first points of the game on a layup the next possession. Reeves hit his first shot of the game for the first Kentucky points. Onyenso scored to answer another Vanderbilt layup by Manjon. Manjon hit a mid-range jumper the next trip down. Sheppard, Dillingham and Ivisic checked into the game for Kentucky with 17-minutes to play in the half. Kentucky trailed 6-4 at the first media timeout. Thiero gathered an offensive rebound but Dillingham through a pass away for a turnover. Thiero drove to the rim for an easy lay in through contact. Reeves peeled off a screen for a layup to give Kentucky a 8-6 lead. Vanderbilt scored but the Commadores didn’t hustle back and Reeves hit a transition layup. Vanderbilt led the ‘Cats 11-10 at the under 12-minute media timeout. Bradshaw went to the free-throw line for 2 shots and hit 1 of 2 to tie the game at 11. Wagner responded to a Vandy score with a deep three, his 5th in the last 2 games following an 0-15 stretch from beyond the arc. Wagner again answered a Commadores score, this time with a floater. The ‘Cats defense converged in the paint and left a wide open three for Vandy, followed by a turnover and another Vandy three by Lewis. The back-to-back scores forced a Kentucky timeout, trialing Vandy 22-16 with 9-minutes in the first half. Edwards hit two free-throws to end the ‘Cats scoring drought. Thiero flew to the rim for a putback dunk following a Reeves miss. Bradshaw added some good minutes but picked up his second foul with 7:42-minutes to play in the half. Kentucky trailed 22-20 at the under 8-minute timeout. Vandy rattled off 4 more quick points following the timeout. Wagner hit another three to narrow the deficit. Reeves peeled off a screen and scored on a floater to make the score 26-25 Vanderbilt. Dillingham scored his first points of the game. Dillingham again shifted his way to a score. The ‘Cats defense continued to gift the Commadores easy scores, however. Kentucky finally put together 30 good seconds of defense to force a shot-clock violation, with help from the Rupp Arena crowd. Kentucky trailed 34-31 with 2:39-minutes to play in the half. Dillingham hit a pair of free-throws to bring the ‘Cats within 1. Dillingham found an open Sheppard for his first points of the game on a three, and to give Kentucky a 36-34 lead. Dillingham then responded to a Vandy score with a three of his own. Dillingham then hit a deep three to push the ‘Cats lead to 42-38. Kentucky gave up a dunk before the half, but hustled down the court and Reeves nailed a deep three at the buzzer to give Kentucky a 45-40 halftime lead.

Vanderbilt shot an efficient 53% from the field in the first half and 38% (3 of 8) from three-point range. Kentucky shot 46% from the field and also shot 38% (6 of 16) from beyond the arc. The ‘Cats did not play well for the first 15-minutes of the first half. Dillingham finally got his game going with 4-minutes to play in the half, bunching together 12-points in the final 4-minutes of the half to push the ‘Cats in front before the end of the half. Reeves also added 11-points in the half. Sheppard led the way with 6 first half assists. Kentucky had 12 assists as a team to just 5 turnovers.

Halftime: Kentucky 45 – Vanderbilt 40

Second Half

Kentucky missed their first couple shots of the half at the rim. Neither team scored the first 2-minutes of the half until Vandy hit a three. Edwards responded with a three of his own. Sheppard, Dillingham, and Ivisic quickly checked in to the game, much like the first half. Lawrence drove and dunked in the lane. Edwards responded with an emphatic slam on the Kentucky end. Edwards hit another open three to extend the Kentucky lead to 53-45. Vandy converted an and-one before the under16-minute media timeout. Kentucky led 53-47. Bradshaw scored in response to a Vandy score. Dillingham again shifted through the paint for a floater following a Vandy alley-oop. Dillingham stopped and popped a long jumper for another score and a 59-52 Kentucky lead at the under 12-minute timeout. Dillingham hit a turning jumper off the backboard for a score, then weaved his way to the rim for another easy layup to give Kentucky a 65-54 lead. Dillingham peeled off a screen and hit a three, as his scoring outburst continued. Sheppard hit a mid-range jumper at the free-throw line. Mitchell scored his first points of the game off an assist from Sheppard. Kentucky led 72-60 with 7:08-minutes to play. Ivisic played the pick and roll with Wagner and was found open for a slam. Reeves hit a running floater off the bank. The ‘Cats broke the press and resulted in a Reeves lob to Ivisic for a monstrous slam. Reeves dribbled the baseline and found an open Sheppard for three. Wagner dribbled into a rhythm three at the top of the key for a 84-65 ‘Cats lead. Vandy went on a 8-0 run within a minute of action to make the score 84-73 Kentucky with 2:52-minutes to play. Dillingham ended the ‘Cats drought with a dish to Ivisic for a slam. Reeves found an offensive board and drove to the rim for an and-one chance. Dillingham had a run out in transition to end the game and delivered a behind the back pass to Thiero for an exclamation mark to end the home season at Rupp Arena. Kentucky went on to win by a score of 93-77.

Final: Kentucky 93 – Vanderbilt 77

Game Stats:

Vanderbilt FG %: 45% (22% 3PT – 5 of 23) (77% FT – 10 of 13)

Kentucky FG %: 51% (41% 3PT – 11 of 27) (89% FT – 8 of 9)

Rebounds: 44 – 32 Kentucky

Assist/Turnover Ratio: 27:10

Turnovers: UK (10), Vanderbilt (9)

Bench Points: 56 – 13 Kentucky

Points off Turnovers: 13 – 10 Kentucky

Fast Break Points: 16 – 16 Tie

Paint Points: 48 – 40 Vanderbilt

Player Stats:

Rob Dillingham – [(23 points) (2 rebounds) (5 assists) (1 steal)

Antonio Reeves – [(20 points (6 rebounds) (4 assists)]

DJ Wagner – [(11 points) (4 rebounds) (5 assists)]

Justin Edwards – [(10 points) (5 rebounds) (1 steal)]

Reed Sheppard – [(8 points) (4 rebounds) (11 assists) (1 steal)]

Adou Thiero – [(6 points) (6 rebounds) (1 assist)]

Zvonimir Ivisic – [(6 points) (3 rebounds) (1 assist)]

Ugonna Onyenso – [(4 points) (5 rebounds) (1 steal) (3 blocks)]

Aaron Bradshaw – [(3 points) (3 rebounds)]

Tre Mitchell – [(2 points) (1 rebound) (1 block)]

Kareem Watkins – [(1 rebound)]

The ‘Cats (22-8, 12-5 SEC) hit the road to take on the regular season SEC champions in the No. 4 Tennessee Volunteers (24-6, 14-3 SEC) in Knoxville to finish out the regular season on Saturday, March 9. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. The game will be televised on CBS.

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