The Wildcats surged back to beat West Virginia on the road after being down by 15 points at the half. Starting the game as a 10-point underdog, Kentucky proved once and for all that this is a team to be reckoned with it – and it is a massive if – they can put everything together for a run of games in March. Next up is a home date with Vanderbilt.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Ride Kevin Knox
If the Wildcats are to make a sustained run at the back end of this season then they will be looking to their freshman leader to make it happen. Kevin Knox has had a very similar season to the Kentucky team in many respects. He is the leading scorer on the roster and before the game in Morgantown he had scored more than 20 points five times this year. Even so, it always seemed like he had more to give.
On Saturday he gave that extra effort.
Knox scored 34 points – a career-high – on 11-of-17 from the field. He took over the game and if he brings that level of fire and efficiency to the court on Tuesday then it will be a massive positive towards the Wildcats chances of winning the game.
Key on the Commodores leaders
It has been interesting to see the change in focus and drive of Vandy seniors Riley LaChance and Jeff Roberson in the weeks following the season ending injury to fellow senior Matthew Fisher-Davis. The two could easily have faded into the background and let the Vandy underclassman battle their way to an unsuccessful season climax, but instead they have taken on even more of a workload with their classmate out of the lineup.
Against TCU in the upset victory, the pair combined for 44 points despite the entire TCU defensive focus being on stopping LaChance and Roberson. Kentucky needs to have a similar focus on Tuesday night when trying to stop the Commodores. Freshman guard Saben Lee is another player to note, but if the Kentucky defense can stop LaChance and Roberson scoring then it is hard to see the rest of the Vanderbilt offense scoring enough points to trouble the ‘Cats.
Find a fit for Jarred Vanderbilt
Jarred Vanderbilt is still the biggest question mark on this whole Kentucky team. It is obvious that Calipari wants Vanderbilt on the court, and the fact that he picked up 11 rebounds in 11 minutes against West Virginia suggests that in that aspect at least he is providing a massive boost for the Wildcats.
The problem is that Vanderbilt is killing the team offensively where he has shot just 5-of-22 from the field – good for 22.7-percent – to begin his Kentucky career.
Calipari knows that a confident and free soring Vanderbilt would be a player that slots into his best lineup. He has a little over a month to get Vanderbilt playing at the level before one and done basketball begins. Games like this one – ironically against Vanderbilt – are the types of contest where Jarred needs to find his shooting touch.