It’s not pretty, but it’s a road win in the SEC. And that is really all that matters.
Kentucky escaped with a 60-58 win over Vanderbilt in Memorial Gym, but it wasn’t the “Memorial Magic” that nearly doomed the Wildcats, it was the Kentucky Tragic. As in play.
And all of this came after perhaps Kentucky’s best start in a while. The Wildcats came out focused and full of hustle as they jumped on Vanderbilt from the opening tip. An Alex Poythress jumper gave UK a 21-10 lead with 8:43 remaining and it was all systems go. Ryan Harrow was dazzling early and Nerlens Noel was having his best offensive game. A Willie Cauley-Stein dunk off a pass from Harrow made it 29-14 at the 4:00 timeout and there was no harbinger of rough seas tonight. Hell, even Bobby Knight was raving about these Wildcats. But then the warning flags started to wave,
Kentucky’s defense, which had been so smothering, got sloppy and allowed Vanderbilt to sink a couple of wide open three pointers. And Kentucky went without a FG the last 3:06 of the second half. The result? Vanderbilt worked itself back into a game it had no business being in. Kentucky went in to the half with a 35-24 lead, but 8 turnovers by UK kept this from being a blow out. And the defense. At some point in the game, Vanderbilt made the decision to run their offense right at Kyle Wiltjer and 13 of the 24 points were scored against Wiltjer. But the way Vanderbilt was shooting, an 11 point lead was still pretty comfortable.
Kentucky seemingly got the game back under control in the second half and had stretched the lead back to 47-31 after a Goodwin layup with 13:49 remaining. The next 7:38 was arguably the worst stretch of basketball played in the Calipari era and brought back memories of BCG’s foray into Memorial. Kentucky turned the ball over, took horrible shots, and allowed wide open shots by Vanderbilt as the Commodores went on a 18-0 streak and went ahead 49-47 on a Shelden Jeter dunk with 6:11 remaining. To their credit, Kentucky finally wok up and took a 52-49 lead after a Harrow three pointer and Goodwin FT, but Vandy was in this till the end. Dai Jon Parker’s trey tied it up at the 4:00 timeout.
And as we recall, the last 4:00 was when things disintegrated for the 2011-12 Wildcats on the road. This was a good chance to see what these Wildcats were made although it took a little help from the officials. With UK clinging to a 58-55 lead, Nerlens Noel sank a shot in the paint with :18 remaining. Replays showed it was a shot clock violation but it was not called and apparently could not be reviewed. However, it appears that Vanderbilt got a re-gift from the officials on a turnover by Archie Goodwin with :07 after a trey made it 60-58. Kentucky played probably their best defensive possession of the season, and a Johnson three missed at the buzzer.
And Kentucky averted disaster.
To be honest, the blame goes in a lot of directions other than at Kyle Wiltjer. Alex Poythress was ineffective and fouled out and Kentucky was outrebounded on the offensive boards 18-7. The bench was outscored 22-7. Archie Goodwin reverted to his out of control self. There were plenty of fingers to be pointed, but the bottom line is that Kentucky won a game that the 2011-12 Final Four team would have lost. And like Brandon Knight did, Ryan Harrow gets better with every game. That said, they have a lot of work to do before taking on an 11-3 Texas A&M Aggie team Saturday afternoon at Rupp. But I’m not going to nitpick a win too much. I’m just going to leave you with John Calipari’s words from after the game. This pretty much says it all:
“You got to understand guys, I’ve been doing this 20-something years. When we win, I’m happy. When we lose, I’m devastated. We won.”