History will be on the line for Vanderbilt when it visits No. 13 Kentucky in Lexington’s Rupp Arena at 6:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday night.
The Commodores (8-11, 0-6 Southeastern Conference) have lost seven straight. One year ago to the day, Vanderbilt faced Kentucky while on a seven-game losing streak. The Commodores would lose that, and then 12 more in a row to end the season with a program-record 20-game losing streak.
There are no signs things will get better.
As 2020 dawned, there was plenty of hope Vandy could snap the streak. Then, VU lost guard Aaron Nesmith, the SEC’s leading scorer (23.0 ppg) and most-accurate 3-point shooter (52.2 percent), just before its conference home opener with Texas A&M.
Since then, the ‘Dores have lost all five games — and each by at least 15.
Saturday’s 90-64 loss at South Carolina was VU’s worst of the season.
That also made 24-straight regular-season conference losses, which ties Sewanee (1938-40) for the longest such streak of futility in league history.
Add in two conference tournament losses, and the Commodores haven’t beaten a league foe in 26 tries.
It’s an unfamiliar feeling for a program that, between 2007 and 2017, went to seven NCAA tournaments and in that time had a competitive rivalry with the Wildcats.
“For us, it’s about trying to figure out how we can improve,” first-year coach Jerry Stackhouse said after the latest loss. “These guys have aspirations beyond this season.”
It’s unlikely the streak gets broken in Lexington. Ken Pomeroy considers the Wildcats (15-4, 5-1) 17-point favorites in a building where the ‘Dores haven’t won since January 2007.
Kentucky’s season is heading in a different direction.
The Wildcats have won three in a row, and seven of eight. The last was a 76-74 overtime victory at then-No. 18 Texas Tech on Saturday.
Kentucky did it on the back of forward Nick Richards (25 points, 14 rebounds), who won National Player of the Week honors for that, plus, his 20 points, three blocks and eight boards in a win over Georgia on Jan. 21.
“I kissed Nick on the forehead,” UK coach John Calipari said afterwards. “I said, ‘There are about three of you in this room who need to do this, but I will do it for you.’ But I kissed him on the forehead.”
Richards (14.3 ppg) is one of four Wildcats averaging double figures, the others being guards Immanuel Quickley (14.0), Ashton Hagans (13.2) and Tyrese Maxey (13.0).
The Wildcats own sole possession of second place in the SEC, one game behind LSU (6-0). They’ll have to guard against looking ahead to three huge games immediately afterwards — road trips to Auburn and Tennessee, sandwiched around a home date with Mississippi State.
That seems unlikely against the Commodores. Without Nesmith, Vandy averages 55.2 points and has lost by a 20.2-point average.
Vandy’s best remaining player is guard Saben Lee (15.9 ppg), an athletic, play-making junior who’s finds space tough to come by thanks to being the focus of opposing defenses with Nesmith gone.
–Field Level Media