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Kentucky survives SEC opener on the road

John Calipari coaches his team against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Memorial Gym
John Calipari coaches his team against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Memorial Gym
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

By now, Kentucky fans have become accustomed to seeing what looks like two different teams from one half to the next. They come out and struggle through the first 20 minutes, go to the break and get tongue-lashed by Calipari and then come back out and play marginally better. Those roles were reversed tonight as the Cats opened up SEC on the road against Vanderbilt.

Once again, Ryan Harrow led Kentucky in points with 16, with Goodwin and Noel both getting into double digits as well. UK held a comfy 35-24 halftime lead and, aside from turnovers, had really looked like the superior team. And after pushing that lead to 16 points within the first few minutes of the second half, they proceeded to fall apart. Vandy switched to a zone defense that effectively kept Kentucky from putting points on the board for nearly 10 minutes. Oh, and forced more turnovers.

The play that helped seal the Cat’s 60-58 win will surely be debated on ESPN for the next 24 hours. Nerlens Noel picked up a loose ball with just a few seconds left on the shot clock and sank a bucket from about two feet out…but not before the buzzer sounded. With 17.3 seconds left, Vanderbilt took possession. Kedren Johnson hit a three and then the Commodores forced a turnover with a chance to take the last shot, which Johnson missed at the buzzer.

Kentucky was rescued by poor officiating. Had the refs gotten the Noel call right, this game would have went to overtime, and with the meltdown this team suffered late in the second half, it may not have bode well for them. Also, after Vandy’s success with the zone, the Cats can expect to see plenty of it in the future. Hopefully Cal is already drawing up some plays to help them counteract it.