By Jamie H. Vaught
Backcourtmen Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis, UK's top two scorers, engineered the No. 23 Wildcats to a nice SEC victory, a 76-57 decision, over Vanderbilt on a wintry Saturday afternoon, Jan. 23, at Rupp Arena. The win improved UK's record to 15-4 overall (5-2 in SEC), while Vandy drops to 11-8 (3-4 SEC).
Murray came up with 18 points -- including 3 three-pointers -- along with seven rebounds and three steals. Ulis had game-highs 21 points and five assists.
Also helping Kentucky, which had five players with three fouls each, was senior forward Alex Poythress, who had 16 points on 8 of 10 field goal shooting. Junior forward Derek Willis, who made his third career start, was effective on the boards, grabbing a game-high tying 9 rebounds, although he struggled from the field, making only 1 of 6 three-point field goals.
“We did all the right things," Murray told the reporters after the game. "We were in the right spots, we communicated and everything was key. We were just ready for them."
Asked if the team, playing its second game in three nights, was getting better, Ulis said, "I think we got a lot better today. Everybody was talking on offence and talking on defense. We just went out there and fought. Me and Alex were just talking about it in the locker room that this game felt a little like last year on the defensive end."
While UK coach John Calipari understood Vanderbilt might have been tired from waiting after arriving in Lexington on Thursday to beat the snowstorm, he nevertheless was pleased with his team's performance.
"I thought we really guarded," he said. "I thought our execution offensively was pretty good. Low turnovers. But we still broke down.
"I thought Jamal (Murray) played to win today. Every play was a winning play. I had to get on him early because he didn't want to drive by people. He wanted to set up and dribble.
"Alex (Poythress) was doing his thing. And Derek Willis. I told him, 'Derek, you can miss shots when you rebound and block shots and defend. You don't have to make every shot.'
"Tyler had a heck of a game today." Seven-foot junior Damian Jones of Vanderbilt, who was first team All-SEC last season, led the team with 13 points and nine rebounds.
For the contest, Kentucky, which extended its homecourt winning streak to 31 games, hit 55 percent from the field-- its best this season against an SEC foe. When hitting at least 50 percent, the Wildcats are 9-0.
The Commorodes made only 32 percent of their field goals.
In the turnover department, Kentucky had second straight outstanding performance. UK took very good care of the ball, committing only seven miscues against Vanderbilt. In their previous game against Arkansas, the Cats had only six turnovers.
“We just got outplayed in pretty much every facet today," said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. "Their defense was better than our defense. Their offense was better than our offense. Their coaching was better than our coaching. That pretty much sums it up for you. Disappointed in our performance and impressed with Kentucky’s."
The Big Blue Nation still amazes Calipari. A crowd of 22,975 braved the snowstorm and hazardous road conditions to watch the Wildcats roll over Vanderbilt.
Commented Calipari, "I thought we'd have 18,000. And these knuckleheads figured out how to get here. I have no idea whether they came two days ago because they heard the storm. Whether they were stuck on the highway and walked here, I don't know. "But I walked in and I looked up at (section) 202 or whatever that corner is, and it's packed. Are you kidding me? You've got to be crazy. No one's left their house. There's no bread on the shelves. There's no milk. There's no eggs. And 25,000 figured out how to get here. And they're going to wait for a radio show. What, are you nuts?"
Calipari also added that deputy athletics director DeWayne Peevy had predicted a crowd of 12,000.
UK's next game is Wednesday, Jan. 27 when it hosts a struggling Missouri club (8-11 overall, 1-5 SEC), which dropped to No. 10 Texas A&M 66-53 Saturday. The 9 p.m. game will be televised by the SEC Network.
Vandy faces Florida Tuesday night in Nashville (9 p.m. on ESPNU).
Photos by UK Athletics