Kevin Stallings doesn’t have to be reminded that Kentucky is much more than Nerlens Noel. The Vanderbilt coach learned that the hard way when Willie Cauley-Stein was the team’s leading rebounder with eight when the Cats defeated the Commodores 60-58 on Jan. 10 in Nashville.
Kyle Wiltjer could boost UK tonight against Vandy. He had only 2 points and 1 rebound in the first meeting.
“He played well against us here,” Stallings said. “He’s really big, long, physical and runs and jumps. He’s a formidable guy around the basket as well. Noel wasn’t the only good, big guy that they have. Cauley-Stein is very good and Kyle Wiltjer has started to play really well for them.
“Noel is a terrific player and a terrific defensive presence,” Stallings added “But they have other projected first round draft choices, and that’s plural, so they are still very, very talented and very good. They’re a complete team, a very good team.”
Stallings’ words came only two days after Kentucky was blistered 88-58 at Tennessee, but the coach was quick to dismiss that rout.
“They ran into a buzz saw,” Stallings said. “I’m not sure anybody in college basketball would have beaten Tennessee they way Tennessee played that day. I don’t think that’s a very good barometer.”
The barometer that has Stallings’ attention is Vandy’s last meeting with Kentucky. In that game, Noel accounted for only 19 percent of the rebounds and 21 percent of the scoring. Ryan Harrow was the team’s leading scorer with 16. Archie Goodwin added 12 with seven each coming from Alex Poythress and Cauley-Stein. On rebounding, Cauley-Stein was tops with eight, Poythress had six, Goodwin five and Harrow and Julius Mays four each.
Most notable is who’s missing. Wiltjer played only 14 minutes in Nashville with two points and one rebound.
“Certainly, they’ll be a little bit different without Noel,” Stallings said. “But they’re always tough to beat up there and I’m sure this will be no exception.”
Stallings said the key for UK is to fill the void.
“If you lose a key player, it’s incumbent upon everyone else to pick up the slack and do what they can to alleviate for the loss,” Stallings said. “Everybody deals with key losses from time to time, it’s part of it. When we’ve had key guys out, nobody felt sorry for us and I’m sure they’re aren’t a lot of people feeling sorry for Kentucky.”
Stallings was also amused by all the fuss over John Calipari’s post-Tennessee statement that some of his players were “not real coachable.”
“He may have just venting his frustration, who knows?” Stallings said. “Look, John has the ability, the proven ability, to get the best out of his players over time. We’re going to expect their very best on Wednesday night. Hopefully, we’ll give them our very best.
“Our guys have been very coachable and I’ve still been very frustrated at times,” Stallings added. “They have always tried to do what we’ve asked them to do, and with a good attitude. Now, we’ve had a hard time getting them to do what we want them to do, but there’s a difference. Sometimes the light just doesn’t come on for a while.”