January 22, 2016

A matchup between Kentucky and Vanderbilt might draw comparisons to David and Goliath - such as when the unranked Commodores upset the eventual national champions in the SEC title game nearly four years ago.

John Calipari suggests the roles might be reversed this time.

After plummeting to No. 23 in the wake of two early SEC losses, the Wildcats look to build on a confidence-boosting win when they host the Commodores on Saturday.

Kentucky (14-4, 4-2 SEC) has already lost to LSU and Auburn in conference play, falling from the No. 1 ranking it held in early December down to 23rd - the lowest for the Wildcats since they were unranked to finish the 2013-14 regular season.

A young Kentucky squad is in danger of falling out of the Top 25 again, and Calipari says his team may be facing its toughest SEC opponent yet.

"(They're) really good," Calipari told Kentucky's official website of the Commodores. "Really good. Run great stuff. Really can shoot the 3. The biggest team we've played. I mean they're huge."

Vanderbilt (11-7, 3-3) boasts two 7-footers in Damian Jones and Josh Henderson alongside 7-1 junior Luke Kornet, who missed five games earlier this season with a torn MCL but has proved his worth on both ends of the court since returning.

Kornet has had a double-double and triple-double during the Commodores' three-game winning streak, including 10 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks during Wednesday's 88-74 victory at Tennessee - Vanderbilt's first road win in five tries.

He blocked 10 shots during last week's win over Auburn and can shoot the 3, creating a scary matchup for a Kentucky team boasting one 7-footer in freshman Isaac Humphries.

Kornet has helped Vanderbilt to the nation's top effective field-goal percentage against at 41.2 while holding opponents to an average of 65.8 points.

"If we didn't have a little confidence going into this game, 'Whew,'" Calipari said. "Because they're good."

That ounce of confidence was found during Thursday's 80-66 victory at Arkansas. Point guard Tyler Ulis scored a career-high 24 points, Jamal Murray added 19 and Derek Willis had 12 in his first start since November.

The Wildcats finally found some balance in their first game with four double-digit scorers since beating then-No. 16 Louisville on Dec. 26.

Kentucky, though, went 5 of 16 from 3-point range and has shot just 32.4 percent from long range in conference play. Vanderbilt ranks second in the nation in 3-point percentage defense at 27 percent - just behind Akron's 26 - while hitting at a 40.8 clip from long range.

"You could say that's Coach (Kevin) Stallings' philosophy," leading scorer Wade Baldwin IV said. "We'd rather have them score on a contested 2 than on a layup or a 3-point shot."

After playing four of its first six conference games away from home, Kentucky returns to Rupp Arena, where the Wildcats have won 30 straight games - the third-longest streak in the venue's history. One of those came against Vanderbilt last January, which was Kentucky's seventh straight series win at home and ninth in 12 meetings overall.

The Commodores did beat the Wildcats 71-64 in the 2012 SEC championship game, however, for their most recent win over a ranked opponent. They're 0-12 against the Top 25 since, including four losses this season.

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