No. 21 Kentucky alters travel plans before Vanderbilt game
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Vanderbilt's fabled Memorial Gymnasium, a former opera house, is one of the quirkiest arenas in the nation, starting with team benches in the end zones. The venue has also seen its share of upsets, earning the nickname "Memorial Magic."
With that backdrop, it is fitting that Kentucky's upcoming game with Vanderbilt is already bizarre. An impending winter storm forced Kentucky to leave Lexington on Thursday, one day ahead of schedule, and by bus instead of plane.
"The airline called us at 5 o'clock Thursday and said there's some rain and ice and we may not be able to take off," coach John Calipari said. "Then it was, well, we could ride a bus tomorrow. Yeah and it would be seven hours to try to get here. So we just decided at 7 o'clock we're leaving at 8:30. We gathered up the guys and we just got in the bus and got here around 11:30."
The inconvenience could actually work in Kentucky's favor. Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew is allowing Calipari to practice inside Memorial Gym on Friday, the first time Kentucky's five freshmen starters will have seen the place.
"Vandy is going to practice before us because they're going to close down the school," Calipari said. "They want everybody off their campus by 3 because it's supposed to be really icy and snowy."
No. 21 Kentucky (13-3, 3-1 SEC) will be facing Vanderbilt (6-10, 1-3) in Saturday's game. Records can be deceiving.
Four of the Commodores' 10 losses have been against ranked teams by an average of nine points. In the SEC, Vandy lost by seven at Florida, 11 at South Carolina and eight against Tennessee.
Leading the way is freshman guard Saben Lee. He has been Vandy's leading scorer the last three games and is the top freshman scorer in league games at 18.5 points per game. His season average is 11.2. Senior forward Jeff Roberson is tops for the season at 14.8 points. Next comes senior guard Matthew Fisher-Davis at 12.1 and senior guard Riley LaChance at 11.3.
"It's always a hard game for us," Calipari said. "They space the court. They play different. They play a wide-open court. They'll shoot 3s. They're driving the ball."
Kentucky comes into the game with a limited roster as only seven scholarship players saw action in Tuesday's 74-73 win over Texas A&M. Freshman point guard Quade Green has an injured lower back and did not practice Thursday. Freshmen Jarred Vanderbilt and Jemarl Baker have yet to play this season because of injury.
"If we're down in numbers, I'll be calling timeouts to give guys a rest," Calipari said. "I've done that before."
Kentucky is 3-1 in the SEC, 1-1 in road games with a win at LSU and a loss at Tennessee. Saturday's game in Nashville is part of a string with four of five games on the road.
Five players, all freshmen, average in double figures. Kevin Knox is tops at 14.1 points a game followed by Hamidou Diallo (14.0), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11.8), PJ Washington (11.1) and Green (10.7).
"We're doing things here that I've not done before. I'm experimenting," Calipari said. "Even yesterday in practice, we tried some new stuff. Probably not the smartest to do. But the problem is we have a bigger picture here. It's not just to try to play the next game. It's to try to grow. It's trying to get better. It's trying to be one of those teams at the end of the year. And we know we're not right now."
Updated January 12, 2018