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Rewind: UK holds on...barely

Jan. 10, 2013
Memorial Gym; Nashville

Kentucky survived another dose of Memorial Magic, but it may have suffered another hit to its already suspect resumé for the season.

A Vanderbilt team that scored 33 points against Marist rallied from a 16-point second half deficit and missed a potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer as Kentucky held on for a 60-58 victory at Memorial Gym. Kentucky will certainly take the victory but it was another game where the Cats' toughness and ability to handle adversity was an issue.

The Cats took a 47-31 lead with 13:47 to go and appeared poised to roll to victory but missed 11 consecutive shots – and 12 overall - during an 18-0 Vanderbilt run that saw UK go scoreless for 7:54. The Commodores feasted on open looks, offensive rebounds and the Cats' inability to get anything going against their zone during the stretch.

Nerlens Noel scored with 7.6 seconds remaining to give the Cats a 60-55 lead on a shot that he did not appear to release before the shot clock expired but was ruled good. After a Kedren Johnson three-pointer UK turned the ball over in the backcourt and set up the possible game-winner, which Johnson missed at the buzzer.

Ryan Harrow led Kentucky with 16 points and four assists. Vanderbilt was paced by Johnson's 18 points, although he needed 19 shots to get his points.

on Kentucky's long scoring drought in the second half
“They went zone, we get got tentative. We've been playing great against zone. Now all of the sudden, guys don't want to take shots. My shooter catches it and passes it so quick – he played hot potato, like the ball was hot. Well, we want you to shoot. That's why we're throwing it to you.”

“[The officials] said it wasn’t reviewable. The officials got together and said it wasn’t reviewable. I don’t want to spin this press conference talking about a call. Judging by my reaction, you could tell what I thought. Those are three of the best [officials] in the country and they refereed a great game.” – Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, on a disputed shot clock violation no-call at end of game

“We was up so much, as a freshman I was thinking, 'Whoa, this is not what coach was saying.' Just like that it turns around and we're down by one. All the sudden, I'm like 'Dang, we've got to dig down and try to pull this out.” – UK freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein

Ryan Harrow took a shot to the ribs late in the second half and had significant trouble catching his breath while talking to the media after the game but his play for much of the night was what helped Kentucky stave off a major upset. The sophomore guard scored a team-high 16 points, handed out four assists and turned the ball over just twice but his biggest contribution may have been the three-pointer he hit with 4:56 remaining to give the Cats a 51-49 lead. That bucket from the right wing snapped a string of 12 consecutive missed shots by UK over a span of 8:52 that saw Vanderbilt outscore the Cats 18-1. Harrow's shot helped steady the Cats just enough when it appeared they were in serious trouble.

Kentucky looked to have the game firmly under control after taking a 16-point lead six minutes into the second half but that only set the stage for a near collapse that would have left serious question marks about this team. The Commodores utilized a zone defense that had the Cats on their heels and made a trio of three-pointers in just under three minutes to slice the lead to single digits and get the Memorial Gym crowd back into the game. By the time the extended run was over the Cats had given up the most consecutive points by an opponent of the season, beating the 16 straight Morehead State scored on Nov. 21.

Willie Cauley-Stein did not have the most productive of second halves – who did for UK? - but he was all over the court in a first half that once again made you pause to realize just how good the 7-foot freshman forward could ultimately turn out to be. Cauley-Stein finished with seven points, eight rebounds, four assists, four blocked shots and two steals in a career-high 30 minutes.

20 – Kentucky's rebounding was once again a problem as Vanderbilt piled up 20 offensive rebounds on the way to 42 total boards. The statistic is even more glaring when you see the Commodores were one of only two SEC teams to have a negative rebounding margin for the season and averaged just 9.2 offensive boards a game. The Cats managed to survive the damage but allowing just 14 second chance points on those 20 offensive rebounds.

Victories are victories but this one had to leave a sour taste in just about every Kentucky fan's mouth. The Cats had shown promise over the past month, especially in a determined comeback effort at Louisville, but this would have to be considered a step back given the way they allowed a below average Vanderbilt squad to climb out of a deep second half hole. There wasn't much in this game that made you think the Cats are on the verge of really taking off.

Kentucky (10-4, 1-0) will have a short turnaround as it host Texas A&M at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 12 in Rupp Arena.

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