Jamal Murray should make opposing coaches tremble

Jamal Murray fights to put up a shot against Vanderbilt’s Luke Kornet during the first half of the game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, February 27, 2016 in Nashville, TN. Photo by Cameron Sadler | Staff 

Josh Ellis

There is a short list of guys in college basketball who make opposing coaches loose sleep at night. A coach and his staff can watch as much film as they can on a player, draw up complex schemes and defensive assignments for him, but all to no avail come game day.

The players on that list find a way to produce for their teams, no matter what defense’s strategy is — the guys on that short list are going to get theirs regardless.

Jamal Murray is on that list.

After hanging 18 points, seven rebounds two assists and three steals in the first meeting between UK and Vanderbilt on Jan. 23., the freshman sharp-shooter went for 33 points and nine rebounds in the rematch on Saturday.

Murray dropped 21 points in the first half of Saturday’s meeting, the most first-half points by a Cat in the John Calipari era.

The Kitchener, Ontario, native is now tied with Brandon Knight with 14 20-point games this season, a record he will soon hold by his lonesome.

“I thought we did a little better job on Murray in the second half,” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said. “But he was fantastic.”

As easy as Murray made it seem, his teammates couldn’t find any type of rhythm in the second half of Saturday’s 74-62 loss. With no other scoring option, the Cats began to find the momentum slipping from their hands and into the Commodores’.

Midway through the second half, when Vanderbilt began to take control, it was Murray who planted his feet, squared his body to the basket, and buried his smooth jumper from behind the curved three-point line.

The Commodores then extended their lead to nine with about six and a half minutes remaining, and Murray immediately had an answer. He drove in a lane packed with gold jerseys, put up a finger roll that danced on the basket before falling through — his 31st point of the game.

“We started switching people on him because, by design, they’re running him around a bunch of stuff to get his defender tired. And then his defender gets tired and he busts open and he’s unbelievable,” Stallings said. “So we started switching people — Wade, Jeff, Matt — switching out on him sometimes and I think that helped us slow him down … a tad.”

The Murray onslaught, however, would not be enough to withstand the Vanderbilt attack, as the Commodores held all other UK players not named “Jamal Murray” to 29 points on 31 percent shooting.

The loss bumped the Cats from the sitting atop the SEC to a share of the lead with Texas A&M at 11-5. But despite the loss, Calipari said he wasn’t fired up at his guys after the game because Murray alone gave UK chances, it just couldn’t make the best of them.

“Jamal carried us and tried the whole game, and that was it,” Calipari said. “And we had a chance to win. That’s why I’m not crazy right now.”

That’s why opposing coaches should be crazy right now.

While the other four players in blue and white can play their worst games of the season, Murray can single-handily give his team a chance to walk out of the arena with a W on any given night — a nightmare that haunts college basketball coaches around the country.