Vanderbilt led Texas Christian by one point Saturday when Riley LaChance stepped to the foul line to shoot a one-and-one in the final seconds.
Before LaChance shot the first free throw, a TCU player reminded him, “You missed three against Kentucky.” That wasn’t very Christian. But, of course, it was true.
“That’s so far in the back of my mind,” LaChance said Monday. “I was just focused on the here and now.”
LaChance made both free throws as Vandy won 81-78. But as the TCU player’s comment suggested, the misses against Kentucky resonated. Going into the first game against Kentucky, LaChance had missed only three free throws all season (24 of 27).
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Then he missed the front end of a one-and-one with 5:36 remaining and Kentucky ahead 57-56.
Then with 30.6 seconds left and UK ahead 70-66, he missed not one, not two, but three free throws to complete a 0-for-4 game from the foul line for a player who has missed only 35 free throws in a four-year college career. To put that in perspective, PJ Washington has missed 45 and Hamidou Diallo 35 this season.
With Vandy set to play Kentucky again Tuesday night, LaChance was asked what he remembered about the first game.
“It’s hard to remember much else than those last three free throws at the end,” he said.
A 6-foot-2 senior from Brookfield, Wis., LaChance couldn’t explain the misses. “I don’t know,” he said. “I wish I could tell you. I’m not sure.” Since then, he’s made “minor adjustments” to his routine, trying to put more arc on the shot, slowing down and taking a deep breath.
On that snowy, icy Jan. 13 night in Nashville, LaChance embodied what UK Coach John Calipari says about players not being robots or computers. After the game, Vandy Coach Bryce Drew was similarly philosophical. “That’s basketball,” he said.
Drew also said he encouraged LaChance by telling him to make his next 30 free throws. “I was obviously happy to hear that,” LaChance said. He is on his way. He’s made 11 of 11 free throws since the first Kentucky game.
His father, Tom LaChance, was at the first UK-Vandy game. A former NAIA player and then walk-on at Marquette, he had coached his son through youth basketball, the AAU circuit and on the high school level.
The elder LaChance expected his son to shake off the missed free throws.
“We’ve played about a million AAU games growing up all around the country,” he said. “And I think that he played so much that he’s been in every conceivable position that there is to be in. He’s made a game-winning shot. He’s missed a game-winning shot.”
Then, Tom LaChance added, “I guess that’s the first time he’s ever missed three free throws in a row. I can guarantee you that.”
UK forward Sacha Killeya-Jones echoed the sentiment. “That was crazy,” he said of LaChance’s misses. “I’ve never seen anything that like before.”
About 20 family and friends attended the first UK-Vandy game. So after so public a failing, LaChance had an obligation to be social.
“To his credit, he came out,” his father said. “He wasn’t all sunshine and roses. But he went to dinner with us. He wasn’t laughing and joking around. He wasn’t exactly crying either. He was engaging in conversation.”
The elder LaChance clearly enjoyed pointing out that Drew later told him that after dinner that night Riley returned to the gym to practice free throws.
Bad news: Jarred Vanderbilt made one of 12 shots in the last two games.
“You can see he’s questioning his ability to make baskets . . . ,” Calipari said. “But he just hasn’t played. . . . I believe when he gets comfortable, all those shots he’s missing will go in. He’s just uncomfortable right now.”
Calipari said UK coaches are still trying to determine where on the court Vanderbilt would feel comfortable.
Good news: Jarred Vanderbilt grabbed 11 rebounds in 11 minutes at West Virginia. That gave him 29 rebounds in 49 minutes on the court in the last four games.
To put that in perspective, Wenyen Gabriel has 30 rebounds in 81 minutes the last four games, PJ Washington 17 rebounds in 103 minutes, Nick Richards 22 rebounds in 74 minutes and Killeya-Jones nine rebounds in 52 minutes.
“Right now, the one thing he can control is how hard he plays,” Killeya-Jones said of Vanderbilt. “He’s going a great job of that. Eleven rebounds in 11 minutes is insane.”
Assist to WVU
Calipari suggested that West Virginia deserved an assist in Kevin Knox’s 34-point performance Saturday.
“They opened the court for him,” he said of WVU’s Press Virginia style. “It was really more of a one-on-one game than a crowded court and him trying to drive.”
UK contributed by having Knox not get involved in breaking the press. He went downcourt and got in position to finish plays once UK broke the pressure, Calipari said.
Calipari seemed to suggest Washington was not seriously hurt. Washington played a season-low 11 minutes at West Virginia. UK said he sustained a knee bruise during the game.
“I think he’ll be fine,” Calipari said. “It was a knee or something that was slowing him down. We just couldn’t have anybody play (at) 80 or 90 percent. Either you bring it or we have to go without you. The good news now is we have a full roster. We can do that.”
Joe Tessitore, Sean Farnham and sideline reporter Laura Rutledge will call the game for ESPN.