Jarred Vanderbilt made his long-awaited debut Tuesday night at South Carolina. His opening act suggested he’ll need a little more rehearsal time before he’s ready for college basketball’s version of Broadway.
“He’s trying to figure it out,” UK Coach John Calipari said. “We really haven’t scrimmaged with him in. We’ve done some half-court stuff. I thought he was pretty good for the first time out.”
Vanderbilt, a freshman who had been sidelined because of a foot injury all season, entered the game with about 13 minutes left in the first half. He missed a contested shot, turned the ball over in the post and missed two free throws in UK’s next three possessions.
But Vanderbilt did come in handy as a ball-handler with starting point guard Quade Green missing his third straight game. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander struggled, and Vanderbilt had a team-high three assists in addition to scoring six points and grabbing five rebounds.
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“Jarred’s a great ball-handler,” teammate Kevin Knox said. “He has a good feel for the game. … Once he gets the feel for it, gets the plays down, he’ll be another great addition to the team.”
South Carolina Coach Frank Martin echoed the idea that Vanderbilt can be a “great addition.”
But he also said Kentucky had a great need for the return of another player.
“The guy I think they miss is Quade Green,” Martin said. “It’s a different team (without Green).”
Kentucky threatened to not to make a three-point shot, which would have ended the nation’s longest streak of making threes at 1,030 games.
The three-point streak seemed incidental since UK took only one shot from beyond the arc in the first 13 minutes of the second half. Knox kept the streak alive with a shot from near the top of the key with 6:58 to go. It was the only three-pointer UK made in 11 attempts.
“No, I was not aware of that,” Knox said of his shot keeping the streak alive. “And that was kind of late in the game, too. We were real close to ending that.”
Knox downplayed the importance of this Kentucky team making three-point shots.
“We’re not really a three-point shooting team,” he said. “That’s not what we focus on.”
For the second time in four games, Calipari used the word “manhandle” to describe how an opposing big man had his way against Kentucky.
This time it was Chris Silva, who equaled a career high of 27 points. Fifteen of his points came in the second half.
“He was the difference,” Calipari said. “He manhandled everybody we put on him. … He just moved people. He bullied them. He moved them. He dominated them. He manhandled everybody on my team.”
After Tennessee beat UK on Jan. 6, Calipari said his Cats got “manhandled by men.” The Vols’ Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield did the honors.
Other “bigs” who’ve played well against UK include Yante Maten of Georgia, Duop Reath of LSU, Tyler Davis of Texas A&M and Thomas Welsh of UCLA.
Silva took advantage of UK “bigs” playing behind him rather than on the side to force an entry pass that took Silva away from the basket, Calipari said.
As Associate Coach Kenny Payne said Monday, Gilgeous-Alexander had been UK’s best player “by far.”
But Gilgeous-Alexander only made three of nine shots Tuesday, and he failed to get to the foul line while equaling a season high of six turnovers.
Knox credited South Carolina.
“The last few games Shai’s been really killing getting to the basket,” Knox said. “They did their film (study). They strategized. Every time he went to the basket, they just collapsed. And the defender stayed in front of him. And he got a lot of offensive fouls off that. They did their research and they did their film.”
Knox expressed confidence that Gilgeous-Alexander will bounce back.
Late not great
Neither coach is a fan of the made-for-TV 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time start. Calipari expressed his opposition with humor, calling it a “midnight game.”
Martin also would prefer an earlier start.
“Every time we’ve played 9 p.m. this year, we have not played real well …,” he said. “That’s the one I’m trying to figure out. … Anybody who knows me knows I’m against 9 o’clock starts. But they’re on the schedule, and it’s fair for everybody.”
UK has four remaining games that are scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. ET. That includes two of the next four: Home against Mississippi State next Tuesday and against Vanderbilt on Jan. 30.
South Carolina has one more 9 p.m. ET start: at Tennessee on Feb. 13.
Tai Wynyard (back), Quade Green (back) and Jemarl Baker (knee) did not make the trip. UK said that they stayed in Lexington to get treatment and “stay on top of academics.” … UK’s record away from Rupp Arena fell to 3-4. UK’s record against teams with a Ratings Percentage Index in the top 60 also fell to 3-4: losses to Kansas (9), Tennessee (13), UCLA (46) and South Carolina (56); victories over Louisville (19), Texas A&M (34) and Georgia (55).
Florida at No. 18 Kentucky
8:15 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)