Vanderbilt anticipates mad, focused UK
by Jeff Lockridge, USA TODAY Sports
So exactly who are these guys in blue and white that Vanderbilt will play tonight at Rupp Arena?
The Kentucky Wildcats (17-8, 8-4 SEC), humiliated by Tennessee 88-58 four days ago after losing freshman Nerlens Noel to a season-ending knee injury, are something of an enigma now.
This is either a young team coming apart at the seams en route to missing the NCAA tournament or a desperate and motivated squad that is about to come together again.
Sophomore center Josh Henderson said Vanderbilt (10-14, 4-8) is planning for the latter when the ball is tipped at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
“I think they’ll be mad and focused,” Henderson said. “Those guys, even coming out of high school, none of them are used to losing … and especially they’re not used to losing by 30. So I know they’re going to come out with a chip on their shoulder and they’re going to try to take it to us.
“I know the first four minutes of the game are going to be very important. We’re going to have to do a good job of just weathering the storm and take it to them, I hope.”
Kentucky edged Vanderbilt 60-58 on Jan. 10 in Nashville. The SEC opener contained its fair share of drama when Noel was awarded a basket in the final 20 seconds after it appeared the shot clock had run out before he released the ball. Kedren Johnson missed a 3-pointer at the horn that would have won it.
But that is nothing compared to the drama in Lexington over the last eight days.
First Noel, the nation’s leader in blocked shots per game (4.4), went down with a torn ACL in a 69-52 road loss to Florida on Feb. 12. Then during and after the blowout in Knoxville, Kentucky coach John Calipari questioned how coachable some of his players were.
“He might have just been frustrated,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “It doesn’t change any of our preparation. John has the ability and he’s proven the ability to get the best out of his players. Hopefully we’ll give them our very best in return.”