Kentucky is the 18th-ranked team in this week’s Associated Press poll with a 12-3 (2-1 Southeastern Conference) record, accomplished almost entirely at Rupp Arena, where it is 11-0. Its only win away from Lexington is a 98-69 rout of North Carolina on Dec. 18 in Las Vegas.
Tuesday night’s SEC game is at Vanderbilt (9-5, 1-1), which appears to be as good a venue as any for the Wildcats to finally win a true road game. Not only are the Commodores relatively mediocre this season, but they are coming off a 72-70 home loss Saturday to South Carolina.
What’s more, whatever home court advantage Vandy might usually enjoy in quirky Memorial Gym is reduced by the fact that students aren’t being allowed into home games due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
And given how Kentucky fans travel in almost every circumstance, there’s a pretty good chance that tickets which would normally go to Commodore students will instead wind up in the hands of fans who won’t be chanting for Scotty Pippen Jr. in a positive manner.
That doesn’t mean Pippen will be any less of a factor. In fact, Pippen is the guy the Wildcats have to stop — or at least contain — for them to win. The preseason SEC Player of the Year is averaging team-high numbers of 18.3 points, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals to go along with 3.6 rebounds.
“He’s kind of the engine to their team,” said Kentucky assistant coach Jai Lucas. “He’s not shooting the ball well numbers-wise, but you know what he’s capable of. He’s a big part of the game plan.”
Pippen is hitting just 43.1 percent from the field and 30.7 percent on 3-pointers. He scored 15 of his 17 points Saturday in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to allow Vanderbilt to build on a win at Arkansas in its conference opener.
The Commodores continue to play short-handed. Minnesota transfer Liam Robbins (foot) is unlikely to play before February and guard Rodney Chatman (knee) was removed from Saturday’s game after 24 ineffective minutes.
“It’s our chance to bounce back and respond,” Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “In this league, there are no nights off.”
Meanwhile, Kentucky aims to up its SEC mark to 3-1 after dumping Georgia 92-77 Saturday night. Freshman guard TyTy Washington led the way with 17 points and 17 assists, the latter breaking the program’s single-game record held by NBA star John Wall.
“For me to go out there and break the record, you know, is exciting because a lot of other great point guards came here as well,” Washington said.
Oscar Tshiebwe’s career-high 29 points and 17 rebounds were almost overshadowed by Washington’s record-breaking performance. Tshiebwe, a West Virginia transfer, has 11 double-doubles and leads Division I in rebounding with 15.2 per game to go along with 16.1 ppg.
Kentucky averages 82.9 ppg, good for 11th in Division I, and is third in rebounding at 43.5 per game, thanks largely to Tshiebwe. It has scored 90 or more points five times this season.
–Field Level Media