Commodores still face a sizable challenge with trip to Kentucky

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 1:05am

The last time Vanderbilt played Kentucky the Commodores chucked up a season-high 70 shots.

Forty-seven missed the mark. At least eight never touched the rim.

“I know there were multiple times where somebody would take it in there and their shot would just get thrown by one or two players,” center Josh Henderson said.

Emphasis on two.

Kentucky star Nerlens Noel made his presence felt in the Wildcats' 60-58 victory on Jan. 10. Along with blocking three shots, and altering many more, the freshman scored 13 points, grabbed seven rebounds and with 18 seconds left made a huge floater before, according to the referees, or after, according to replay, the shot clock sounded.

He wasn’t the only giant camped out in the paint that night.

Willie Cauley-Stein towered over the Commodores and actually led the Wildcats with four blocks and eight rebounds. His presence helped bother 6-foot-11 Henderson, who went scoreless in just 13 minutes.

The loss of 6-foot-10 Noel to a season-ending ACL injury last week can’t be underplayed as Vanderbilt (10-14, 4-8 Southeastern Conference) heads to Rupp Arena on Wednesday (7 p.m., SEC Network). The future NBA lottery pick — this year or next — led the country with 106 blocked shots and paced his teammates in rebounds and steals.

But at 7-foot, Cauley-Stein can’t be overlooked either.

“He is a formidable guy around the basket as well. Noel wasn’t the only good big guy that they have,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “Cauley-Stein is very good. [Kyle] Wiltjer has obviously started playing really good ball for them. They’re a complete team, a very good team. Again, they’re missing a guy who is a very good player but they still have some very good players anyway.”

Some very good players who likely are in a very bad mood.

The Wildcats (17-8, 8-4) were annihilated Saturday in an 88-58 road loss to Tennessee. The margin of victory was the largest against a John Calipari coached team since his first season at Massachusetts in 1988-89.

A lot of the problems began down low. With Noel out, the Volunteers decided to take their chances against Cauley-Stein and Wiltjer.

The cracks in the paint became obvious early as UT raced out to a 50-26 lead at halftime. Tennessee scored 40 points in the paint — the third-most allowed by Kentucky this season — and dominated the rebounding battle 39-21. The Vols also shot 58 percent from the field, marking just the second time Kentucky has allowed an opponent to make at least half its shots. And perhaps the most notable statistic — the Wildcats tied a season-low with just three blocks. 

Stallings chose not to read too much into Kentucky’s first game without Noel.

“They ran into a buzz saw on Saturday,” he said. “I’m not sure that anybody in college basketball would have beaten Tennessee the way Tennessee played that day.”

Still, watching the defending national champ unravel without its most intimidating shot blocker wasn’t lost on the Commodores.

“When you watched them they looked all out of sorts,” Henderson said. “They lose a big presence inside and just hopefully we take advantage of that.”

1 Comment on this post:

By: 4gold on 2/21/13 at 6:01

Hopeless, Henderson just stands there flat footed with people sailing over his shoulder on both sides getting put back after put back. So frustrating to watch. But if that is all Calipari can do with a #1 draft class he is no coach at all. A 2 and 4 point win over VU's last years scrubs.

Go Dores, Preds, Titans! Go Nashville a great place to live!