Published November 20, 2014
The top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats can secure season title this afternoon, as they welcome the Vanderbilt Commodores to Lexington for a conference showdown at Rupp Arena.
John Calipari's Wildcats moved to 27-1 overall and a perfect 13-0 in league play with a 73-64 victory at Mississippi State this week. The win pushed the nation's longest current win streak to 19 games, while landing Kentucky on the precipice of its 45th SEC crown.
Kevin Stallings' Commodores have had a strong season at 20-8 overall, but like everyone else in the league, they just couldn't keep pace with Kentucky. Vanderbilt has won three straight games to move to a strong 9-4 in-conference, including a 59-48 decision over South Carolina last time out.
This is the 180th meeting in a series that dates back to the 1911-12 campaign. Kentucky holds a 135-44 lead overall, including a 78-14 mark in Lexington. The Wildcats are seeking the regular-season sweep after recording a 69-63 victory in Nashville on February 11th.
The Commodores are averaging a modest 73.9 ppg this year and do so on a strong .466 shooting. The team boasts of the top scoring tandem in the SEC and perhaps the nation for that matter in guard John Jenkins and forward Jeffery Taylor. Jenkins has a whopping 105 three-pointers made this season, shooting .461 from behind the arc and leading the SEC with 20.1 ppg. Taylor can fill it up as well from long range, shooting .465 from deep (53-of-114) and ranking fourth in the league at 17.3 ppg. Center Festus Ezeli has provided some scoring depth of late and is now averaging 10.1 ppg.
Vanderbilt was tied 22-22 with South Carolina at the half, but distanced itself over the final 20 minutes to earn the win at home. Jenkins was his usual self, going 6-of-10 from the floor and a perfect 6-of-6 from the free- throw line to finish with 21 points. Taylor however, struggled to a 1-of-8 performance from the field, en route to a season-low four points. Ezeli and Lance Goulbourne stepped up though, with 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Despite the youth on the roster, Kentucky takes no shortcuts and has dominated in just about every facet of the game this year. The team comes into this contest leading the nation in scoring margin (+19.4) and field-goal percentage defense (.463), while ranking 23rd in scoring (77.6 ppg) and 10th in rebounding margin (+7.3). Freshman phenom Anthony Davis is simply as good as it gets in the low post. The 6-10 youngster is third nationally in field-goal percentage (.646), leads the team in both scoring (13.8 ppg) and rebounding (9.8 rpg) and leads the nation in blocked shots (4.8 bpg). There is plenty of depth behind Davis, as four others average double-digit points on the year. Doron Lamb is next in line at 13.7 ppg, followed by Terrence Jones (12.2 ppg), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (12.2 ppg) and Darius Miller (10.0 ppg). Freshman point guard Marquis Teague (9.6 ppg) gets thrown in for good measure, ranking third in the SEC in assists (4.7 apg).
Kidd-Gilchrist and Davis both recorded double-doubles, powering the Wildcats to victory in Starkville this week. Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Davis tallied 13 points and 11 boards. Miller added 12 points to the cause, while Lamb and Jones finished with 11 points apiece.