As one of only five unbeaten Division I teams in the nation, Vanderbilt has been receiving significant attention.
Traditional powerhouse Kentucky has also been in the headlines, but not for the same reasons.
The 13th-ranked Commodores look to win their 17th straight game as they visit the Wildcats, who open SEC play with a losing record for the first time in nearly two decades.
Vanderbilt (16-0, 1-0 SEC East) surged through its non-conference schedule and opened conference play with an 80-73 win over South Carolina on Wednesday. The Commodores are in the midst of their best start in school history and the program’s longest winning streak.
“Our team has a lot of confidence and a lot of poise. Our team believes in itself. Our coaching staff believes in them greatly. They’re confident in close games. That’s a great quality to have and not every team has that,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said.
The Commodores have been winning behind an explosive offense led by senior Shan Foster and freshman A.J. Ogilvy.
Foster leads the SEC in scoring (20.6 points per game), while Ogilvy is second (19.6 ppg). Vanderbilt is fifth in the nation in scoring (86.8 ppg) and ranks first in 3-point shooting (44.3 percent).
Ogilvy carried the offense on Wednesday, scoring 25 points for the second straight game.
Foster had an off night against the Gamecocks, scoring a season-low 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting, including 2-of-9 from 3-point range. Foster, who had scored a season-high 32 on 11-of-18 shooting, including 8-of-12 from beyond the 3-point arc in Vanderbilt’s’ 97-88 win over Massachusetts last Saturday, isn’t worried by his latest performance.
“I’ll be ready to bounce back on Saturday,” he said.
Despite struggling on Wednesday, Foster did manage to become Vanderbilt’s all-time leading 3-point shooter. With his 297th 3, he surpassed Ronnie McMahan.
Foster is averaging 17.3 points on 14-of-26 shooting from 3-point range in his last four games against the Wildcats—all wins. The Commodores, who are just 41-129 all-time against Kentucky, have never beaten the Wildcats five straight times.
Under first-year coach Billy Gillispie, Kentucky (6-7) stumbles into league play under .500 for the first time since 1988-89, the season before Rick Pitino arrived.
“I thought our record was going to be really good at this point, but things happen,” said senior Ramel Bradley, Kentucky’s third-leading scorer (14.8 ppg). “We just have to toughen up and roll with it.”
The Wildcats have lost six of their last eight, including an 89-75 home loss to archrival Louisville last Saturday. The Wildcats, who went 14-2 at home last season, are just 6-4 at Rupp Arena, including disappointing losses to Gardner-Webb and San Diego.
Bradley had a career-high 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting against the Cardinals, and is averaging 23.0 points in his last three games.
Freshman forward Patrick Patterson leads Kentucky in scoring (16.8 ppg), but had just six points on 3-of-14 shooting and turned the ball over six times against Louisville.
Controlling the ball has been a major problem for the Wildcats, who are averaging a SEC-worst 17.4 turnovers and committed 22 last Saturday.
Kentucky can take a step in getting its season back on track with a win in its conference opener, but it hasn’t had any success against ranked teams lately. The Wildcats have lost both of their games against Top 25 teams this season, and have dropped 11 straight games against ranked opponents dating back to 2005-06.
“We are missing that big win to get our momentum going for the season,” Bradley said. “(Saturday) can be a great opportunity for us to get a big win against a big team and get some momentum going.”