DeMarcus Cousins inspired talk about the best centers in college basketball on Saturday. He also proved the wisdom of the phrase: reading is fundamental.
Before Kentucky beat Vanderbilt 85-72 on Saturday, Cousins read some disparaging things about himself. "Saying I never played against a real big man," he said, "and how (Vandy center A.J. Ogilvy) is the best big man in our conference.
"Not even close."
How could anyone argue after Cousins scored 21 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and completely outplayed Ogilvy (12 points and four rebounds) in a game that elevated Kentucky into a tie for first place in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division.
Asked if reading such comments fueled his competitive fire, Cousins said, "I was very inspired. That kind of made me mad. People saying I hadn't played against anyone. Basically, saying my game is a fake.
"I read a lot," he added. "I see things. And I hold it."
Of course, Cousins would not be Cousins without a measure of youthful indiscretion. He got hit with a technical foul and delivered a forearm menacing enough to cause the referees to check the sideline monitor to make sure on the proper punishment. It was merely a personal foul.
UK Coach John Calipari again saluted Cousins' restraint while acknowledging the big man from Alabama "is going to do some dumb things."
But the smart things and effective things Cousins did outweighed those missteps, so much so that Patterson declared:
"I think he's the best big man in the SEC, even if he's a freshman," Patterson said. " ... He's proven he's one of the best and top and elite centers out there."
Kentucky improved to 20-1 overall and tied Vandy for first place at 5-1. Darnell Dodson, who started in place of Eric Bledsoe, scored an SEC-high 16 points. Patterson hit a career-high three three-pointers en route to 12 points. John Wall and Bledsoe scored 13 each.
Vandy, which was off to the program's best SEC start since 1965-66, fell to 16-4 overall and 5-1 in the league. Jermaine Beal led the Commodores with 19 points.
Vandy rose second-half comebacks to the top of the SEC Eastern Division. During the first half, Kentucky put the Commodores in need of another rally.
The combination of Cousins inside, three-point shooting and attentive defense enabled UK to pull steadily away. A three-point play by Cousins (the first of five times he scored while being fouled) gave the Cats the lead for good at 5-3.
When asked about the psychological damage inflicted on an opponent by a player scoring while being fouled, Cousins smiled and said, "I guess it kind of crushes their hope."
Cousins, who led all first-half scorers with 13 points, got off to a roaring start. After winning the opening tap by directing the ball to UK's defensive baseline (Wall retrieved it), Cousins got busy.
He quickly — and easily — beat Ogilvy on post-up moves, putting the Vandy big man in foul trouble with his second at the 12:21 mark.
"I was feeling his presence," said Cousins, whose 12th double-double set a record for a Kentucky freshman. "Wherever he gave me to go, I went."
Cousins had perhaps one misstep. His forearm to the head area of Taylor as the two jockeyed for a rebound sent the referees to the monitor to see if a flagrant or intentional occurred. Neither player said he remembered the play. The referees judged that it was only a personal foul.
As the second half began, Vandy changed its defense on Cousins. The Commodores doubled-teamed him in the post.
Cousins foiled the strategy by whipping a pass to Patterson, who dunked while being fouled with 18:18 left. That marked the fifth old-fashioned three-point opportunity Cousins participated in.
Vandy closed within 59-47. Then Cousins — who else this day? — scored from the post while being fouled for another three-point play.
More importantly, it began a rush of seven straight points that gave Kentucky a 66-47 lead with 12:37 left.
The would-be cruise to victory hit troubled water with 9:06 left.
After being called for goaltending on a Taylor drive, Cousins got hit with a technical foul as he walked Charlie Chaplin-style to the bench.
"I said, 'Oh my God, what the,' and stopped," Cousins said. "And they got me."
Calipari said he had no complaint with the technical
Freshman John Jenkins made one of the two technical free throws as Vandy used a four-point trip to reduce UK's lead to 69-56.
Vandy got no closer than 73-62.