By David Schuh | @DSchuhKernel
UK sophomore guard Ryan Harrow sat in the locker room Friday night, a towel draped over his head, tears flowing down his face.
His team was just eliminated from the SEC Tournament by Vanderbilt, a game in which he shot 2-15 from the field.
“It’s on me. It’s all my fault,” he said. “I let everybody down.”
Harrow and the Cats were beaten by Vanderbilt, 64-48, Friday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
UK held one lead all night, a narrow 6-5 advantage five minutes into the game.
The Commodores used hot shooting from behind the 3-point line to build an early lead that they would never relinquish.
“It was a combination of a team that played well and had every shot fall in for them,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “We laid an egg and they played well.”
Vanderbilt built a lead from the onset, hitting six of their first 11 shots. They hit two 3-pointers in the closing minutes of the half to take a, 37-23, lead into the break.
The Commodores shot 59 percent in the opening half, compared to UK’s 36 percent.
Freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein was limited to 13 minutes with two fouls midway through the half.
“Coach was preaching for me not to get in foul trouble,” Cauley-Stein said. “I start playing openly aggressive, and try to block every shot and end up getting in foul trouble. It’s real damaging.”
Vanderbilt came out of the second half hot, hitting its first five shots. Vandy stretched the lead to 21 points with 16 minutes left, when Calipari made a change.
He came out of a timeout in a 2-3 zone defense, and got immediate results. The Cats quickly went on a 10-0 run, capped by a two-handed dunk from freshman guard Archie Goodwin that got the capacity crowd to its loudest point.
Then, out of a Vanderbilt timeout, Calipari switched back to man-to-man defense. The change, which he said he had to make, changed the momentum. The Commodores scored five straight points, stretching the lead back out. It would never again get under 12.
“When you look at it, we have no choice, we have to go to something here,” Calipari said. “The zone was good … We had our chances, but we broke down three straight times … We were stabbing ourselves in the eye.”
UK had its chances in the second half to make runs, but couldn’t get anything going on offense. Vanderbilt didn’t score for four minutes and 31 seconds late in the half, but missed opportunities on offense plagued the Cats repeatedly.
“When you’re giving them those many high-percentage shots and, on top of that, nothing is going down for you … there’s no way you can win that way,” Goodwin said.
It has been a constant struggle for UK this season to achieve a level of consistency. The players understand, and find themselves still searching for it with little time left.
“Once we figure out to where we can continue to compete game after game … things will be better than they are,” Goodwin said. “Until we figure that out, nothing is going to change.”
UK now must wait for Sunday, when their NCAA Tournament fate will be decided on national television. The Cats had an opportunity to dispel the suspense, but couldn’t beat the Commodores for a third time this season.
Harrow, in particular, feared the implications of the quarterfinal loss.
“If I would have played well and even made half my shots, the game would have been different,” he said. “If we don’t make (the NCAA Tournament), I’ll be real disappointed. We needed all of these games to decide what we were going to do for the tournament.”