UK-Vanderbilt lacks previous gravity
by Jeff Lockridge, USA TODAY Sports
Ten months later, Vanderbilt and Kentucky will meet again.
The names on the backs of all 10 starting players will be different. So will the stakes. This is just the SEC opener, not the SEC Tournament championship.
Last year’s meeting in New Orleans was a duel for the ages. This sold-out game on Thursday at Memorial Gym (8 p.m., ESPN) is a duel for two retooled squads in need of aging.
“The guys that I’m coaching may not even know that game happened,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said of the Commodores’ 71-64 win, which gave Vanderbilt its first SEC Tournament title since 1951.
Kentucky atoned for that missed opportunity on March 11 three weeks later in the same city when it cut down the nets at the NCAA Final Four.
Despite another top-flight freshman class, the new-look Wildcats (9-4) are unranked and searching for the chemistry and consistency it showed en route to national title No. 8. Vanderbilt (6-6) is molding a new identity as well, though it lacks the skill and size at Calipari’s disposal.
“The personnel is just so different for both teams,” said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, who had three players from that SEC final — John Jenkins, Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor — go in the first 31 picks of the NBA draft.
Calipari supplied the first two picks — Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — as part of six Wildcats in the first 46 selections.
“I think they only have a couple of guys that even played in that game, just like us,” Stallings said. “So I would say that it’s probably wise for everyone to move on because there’s nothing any of us can do about what happened. I’m still mad about the two games they beat us. I thought we had a chance to win all three.”
Of the few returning players to have a hand in the SEC final, Vanderbilt sophomore point guard Kedren Johnson (16.6 ppg) played the biggest role. Half of his six points in 23 minutes came with 1:32 remaining when his baseline layup and free throw handed the Commodores a … [For more on Kentucky-Vanderbilt lacks gravity of previous matchup, click here.]