The seemingly unstoppable drives to the basket have become a signature part of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s game. He added a new dimension to his effectiveness in Kentucky’s 83-81 overtime victory over Vanderbilt on Tuesday night:
Steely-eyed, Canadian-cool free-throw shooter.
Gilgeous-Alexander made two free throws with two seconds left in the second half to tie the score and send the game into overtime. He looked entirely comfortable, as if he’d made such shots many times growing up in Hamilton, Ontario.
“Actually, that was the first time in the last five seconds of a game,” he said.
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Gilgeous-Alexander started the scoring in overtime with — what else? — a drive to the basket. Actually, he’s been doing that again and again with numbing repetition. He’s something of a human version of erosion, wearing down an opponent with drive after drive.
“If there’s someone in front of me, I know I can get around him any time I want to,” he said.
His teammates also know. How could they not, especially after scoring a career-high 30 points against Vanderbilt?
“He was unbelievable tonight,” Quade Green said. “He’s so long. You can’t guard him.”
Associate coach Kenny Payne, who substituted for an ill John Calipari in the postgame news conference, saluted Gilgeous-Alexander’s ability to impact games as a freshman, in a high-profile program and playing against motivated opponents.
“For that kid to come out the way he did for to win says a lot about him,” Payne said. “That was adversity throughout the game for him. He kept fighting.”
Obviously, drives by Gilgeous-Alexander are not surprising. Vanderbilt Coach Bryce Drew tried to explain how the player continues to get to the rim.
“He has great size and he is shifty,” Drew said. “You know, he uses his change of speed really, really well. … You’ve got to credit him for being a shot maker, especially in that second half.”
Will to chill?
Payne suggested that the much-hyped will to win quality can be overdone.
“I think that the fact that we’re winning these games is important,” he said of UK’s come-from-behind victories over West Virginia and Vanderbilt in the last four days. “So that shows there’s a will to win.
“But, my goodness, I wish it was a little easier. I would like for us as a team — and I’m sure Cal’s the same — to play those last five or six minutes, play the (whole) game like that, and let’s see how good we are.”
Calipari seemed to suggest Washington was not seriously hurt at West Virginia when he played a season-low 11 minutes. UK said he sustained a knee bruise in the game.
“I think he’ll be fine,” Calipari said Monday. “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.”
Washington had six points and five rebounds in 33 minutes against Vandy.
Help on way
Help is on the way for Vandy in the form of recruits in the class of 2018.
The class, which is rated in the top 10 nationally, includes two five-star prospects: Darius Garland and Simi Shittu. There is also a four-star wing player, Aaron Nesmith.
Previously, Vandy had signed only one five-star player in the history of the program: John Jenkins in November of 2008.
Sacha Killeya-Jones shrugged at UK’s return to The Associated Press top 25 this week.
“It’s a number,” he said. “Doesn’t mean anything to me.”
▪ Vandy’s record against teams in The Associated Press top 25 fell to 94-235. The Commodores’ record in road games against such teams fell to 20-140.
▪ UK had nine turnovers, which equaled a season low. The Cats also had nine against Georgia. UK improved to 9-0 in games in which it had 12 or fewer turnovers.
▪ UK’s seven assists equaled a season low and tied for the third-lowest total in Calipari’s nine seasons as coach. UK also had seven assists at South Carolina.
▪ Vandy’s record away from Memorial Gym in Nashville fell to 0-9.