Kentucky tweaked its routine ahead of a winter storm and departed for Nashville one day earlier than planned. The Wildcats left Lexington Thursday night to prepare for Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt.
Kentucky arrived in Nashville at 11:30 p.m. Thursday night and was scheduled to workout at Memorial Gymnasium late Friday. Kentucky coach John Calipari said Vanderbilt officials have been “nice enough” to accommodate the team ahead of the pending inclement weather.
“They (wanted) everybody off their campus by 3 p.m. (Friday) because it (was) supposed to be really icy and snowy,” Calipari said. “Hopefully it clears up by (Saturday) so that we won’t have any issues with the game.”
The No. 21 Wildcats (13-3, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) are coming off a hard-fought 74-73 triumph over Texas A&M last week, while Vanderbilt dropped a 92-84 setback to surging Tennessee. Kentucky has typically struggled against Vanderbilt in Nashville but swept the Commodores a year ago and has won five of the past six games against Vandy.
"It's always a hard game for us (and) it's always a tough game,” Calipari said. “They space the court, they play different. They play a wide-open court. They'll shoot threes. They're driving the ball. The big kid (Djery Baptiste) is playing well for them, so they have someone next to the goal. It's a different team because they don't have a five men shooting threes like they have in the past, which really made things hard. But they're still a team and in this building they play well."
Kentucky was without Quade Green (back) in Kentucky’s narrow victory over the Aggies. Calipari said Green didn’t practice Thursday and isn’t sure if the starting point guard will be available Saturday. If Green is unable to play, that leaves the Wildcats with seven scholarship players available, not counting Jarred Vanderbilt, who is expected to make his debut soon.
Calipari is tinkering with his system, which could result in more timeouts to give the Wildcats more breaks.
“We need one to change the flow of the game,” the Kentucky coach said. “We may need one just to rest. So, I've done that before. And the other side of this for this team is I may call a timeout that in the past I haven't. In other words, play through it. Figure it out yourself. That may not work for this group right now where we are. And so we're doing things here that I've not done before. I'm experimenting. Even yesterday in practice, we tried some new stuff. Probably not the smartest to do.”
Calipari said he’s trying to get a glimpse of the “bigger picture.”
“It's to try to grow (and) it's trying to get better,” he said. “It's trying to be one of those teams at the end of the year. And we know we're not right now. I mean, the players know we're not right now. But it's not right now that we're dealing with. It's, when we get to the end, where are we now."
Vanderbilt (6-10, 1-3) has lost three of its first four conference games, including the past two conference encounters. Despite the losing skid, Calipari said the Commodores haven’t changed their scheme.
"They trap the post and they do a really good job,” Calipari said. “I watched South Carolina, at South Carolina, and they trapped as that ball was in the air and really gave South Carolina trouble. So, they have some different things they do, and they also go zone, so it's not like you just throw it in and you beat them. That's not what's happened. You watch the Tennessee game, they did not trap (Grant) Williams in the first half. Not once. And they were up 10. Now, they chose to trap him in the second half. Now, he didn't score all his points in the first half. He had a ton of points in the second half.
“You're just going to play the game. They'll play us zone. One year we came up here, they played zone from the tip. They played almost all zone. Then they came to our building and they didn't play any zone. There are times they've trapped us, and there are other times that they haven't. we'll just have to see."
Calipari liked the way his team bounced back following last weekend’s loss at Tennessee and has been pleased with the emergence of PJ Washington, who has averaged 15.7 points during the past three games.
“I’m trying to tell PJ I want him to lead, but I'm also having to teach him how he's got to be on that basketball court all the time to really be the leader he needs to be,” Calipari said. “In other words, when you come with that spirit, that competitive spirit, you're in that frame of mind, I need you to lead. When you're in there to jerk around, or joke, or grab, that brings practice down. Then, I don't need you to lead. So, they're still learning.”
Gametracker: Kentucky at Vandy. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.