The SEC’s regular season schedule comes to an end in exactly a week. Now is the time for teams to make their NCAA cases and beef up their resumes as much as possible in the few games that are left.
For Kentucky, it’s the time to earn as high of a seed as possible in March Madness, and lock down a No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament.
Consider Saturday’s 74-62 loss to Vanderbilt a giant step backward for the Wildcats in that regard.
Leading Vanderbilt by three points at the half, the Wildcats and Commodores stayed closely locked in the first 20 minutes of play, only to see Kentucky go on two costly scoring droughts in the second half to seal its fate. Up by as many as seven with 17:50 to play in the second half, the Wildcats went cold when it mattered the most and Vanderbilt capitalized in every way possible. The loss hands Kentucky its eighth of the year and second in the last three games heading into the final week of the season.
The turning point: Between 16:08 and 13:54 left in the game, Kentucky didn’t score a single basket. In the meantime, Vanderbilt scored six points, to take a two-point lead. That gave the Commodores momentum behind an electric crowd and when Kentucky tried to bounce back, it then went on another massive scoring drought to close the game. The Wildcats didn’t score a single basket in the final 3:47 of the game, while Vanderbilt — up six at the time — went up six more for a 12-point victory. If the Wildcats drop out of first place in the conference after this week, they will look back at those two droughts as the main reason.
MVP: If you watched the game, logged onto Twitter, followed live updates or looked at the box score, you know this one is a no-brainer. Freshman forward Jamal Murray took it to Vanderbilt and put the Wildcats on his back, racking up 33 points on the day and 21 in the first half alone. Only one other Wildcat — Tyler Ulis — reached double-digit figures.
Memorable moment: Murray’s performance, though ultimately not enough to give the Wildcats a win, was certainly one that won’t be forgotten any time soon. Working with very little help on the offensive end, his 21-point first half performance earned him a place in Kentucky’s history books.
Starting lineup: Marcus Lee, Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe, Alex Poythress, Jamal Murray
Off the bench: Skal Labissiere, Charles Matthews, Jonny David, Mychal Mulder, Isaac Humphries, EJ Floreal, Dominique Hawkins
What’s next: No. 16 Kentucky travels to Florida on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. ET tip in what is now a must-win game.