After struggling through embarrassing early season losses to Gardner-Webb and San Diego, it appeared that Kentucky turned the corner last week.
The Wildcats ripped off five wins in a row, including a huge win over two-loss Tennessee—and brought their SEC record to 6-2, good for the second spot in the East.
Momentum was squarely on their side. Billy Gillispie was the savior once again.
It seemed the Kentucky we all knew was coming back to life.
A few more wins to close out the year, a decent run in the SEC tournament, and they were bound for a No. 8 or 9 seed in the Big Dance.
And then last night happened.
As in the 41-point drubbing they took at the hands of the Vanderbilt Commodores.
A road loss to a respectable Vanderbilt team is certainly not the end of the world, but Kentucky’s showing was shameful at best.
At the half, the Wildcats had more turnovers than points—a feat normally reserved for 6th grade girls teams. They also gave up 41 points in the first half while only scoring 11.
To make matters worse, the 30-point halftime deficit quickly grew to 40 early in the second half, and it remained there until the final buzzer sounded—despite Vanderbilt’s bench players getting extensive minutes.
Uncharacteristically, Kentucky’s defense was awful, giving up easy points in the lane all night long. Wildcat defenders—fresh from not having played since Saturday—were slow on rotations, absent on the boards, and simply bystanders as Vandy shooters took open look after open look.
And again, it didn’t get better in the second half. The Wildcats showed no fight, surrendering 52 more points in the last 20 minutes. The 93 points total was the most Kentucky has given up all year.
Not surprisingly, it was the worst loss in SEC play for Kentucky. Ever.
What makes this debacle so confusing is the timing. Not only does it snap the five game win streak I alluded to earlier, but Kentucky’s next two games are against two SEC cellar dwellers, LSU and Georgia. The stage was set for the Wildcats—they just didn’t take advantage.
The loss drops Kentucky to the third spot in the East and makes remaining games against Arkansas, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Florida look much more daunting.
So after all that progress, all that work to get back to respectability, it seems it was all for naught—and with just one embarrassing performance.
It would be difficult—downright impossible—for the selection committee to overlook this bad of a loss so late in the season.