Kentucky basketball is making a living suddenly of thrilling finishes sinking Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt nearly drove a dagger into the Kentucky basketball hearts with its three-point shooting, but the mighty Wildcats fought each one-off and in the end, it was Davion Mintz delivering the fatal blow for a 77-74 UK victory.
Olivier Sarr led all players with a season-high 24 points, adding seven rebounds and two blocks. The senior transfer also had career highs with 14 of 17 at the foul line, also most by any Wildcat this season.
In typical UK-Vandy fashion, there were 17 ties and five lead changes, and neither team led by double digits. It was also the fifth year in a row, Kentucky overcame a halftime deficit against Vanderbilt in Rupp Arena to pull out the victory.
After a dismal six-game losing skid Kentucky (3-6, 2-0) suddenly finds itself tied at the top of the Southeastern Conference with Alabama (8-3, 3-0).
That’s right after what many people have said including Ken Pom as the unluckiest team statistically after losing three games by three points or less in December.
Kentucky has now won by three points and in overtime in the last two games could the tide be turning for Kentucky?
Early in the non-conference season, the tide at times felt like a tidal wave washing over the young Wildcats. While it’s doubtful this team with its turbulent play will send any wave crashing over an opponent they seem to find ways to hang on for dear life.
Saturday it was Dontaie Allen with his seven 3-pointers that upended Mississipi State in double-overtime and on Tuesday it was Mintz who had been quiet but steady much of the night knocking down the winner with confidence.
Before Saturday’s game, UK radio analyst and former great Mike Pratt said it simply comes down to that simple little word and that they did it then and again against the Commodores.
Now it wasn’t to perfection as coach John Calipari said after the Vandy win but marked improvement in that category is putting them in a position to win games now and not blow them like in the fall.
Just as we all would like to do and forget much of 2020 this team seems to have tucked that away as well and instead focus on a better 2021.
They have learned. They are believing in both themselves and as a team and gained a fighting spirit.
You can’t mistake this as a pretty team to watch and at times goes through dreadful spurts where nothing goes well. Then a spark emerges and ignites the pilot light and poof they find new life.
Where it comes from nobody knows. Cal can draw things up, but the team must execute.
Nothing but net.
Mintz was asked after the game about how it felt to watch his shot drop through.
“That felt amazing I knew where coach placed me and Devin put it on the money to me. After that, I remember missing one like that at Creighton and today it felt amazing.”
Of course, then they had to watch Vandy get open looks and shots in the closing 10-seconds including Myles Stute who had sunk four threes already in the game, and Maxwell Evans trey that bounced three times off the rim before falling by the wayside at the buzzer.
Where it was Allen getting mobbed on Saturday it was Mintz on Tuesday.
This joyous ending is something we can all get down with – despite how many nails we may have to bite off in the process.