NASHVILLE — Talent.
Will to win.
They're a dynamic duo, those two.
They can overcome immaturity, bad shooting, careless turnovers, and poor decision-making, even by the head coach.
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"The worst timeout I've ever called," John Calipari said.
Kentucky beat Vanderbilt, anyway, 58-56.
See, it didn't matter. Playing the 17th-ranked team in the nation, on Vanderbilt's quirky home floor, before a charged-up crowd, it didn't matter that Kentucky shot 35.8 percent from the field, or 18.8 percent from the floor, or 56.7 percent from the foul line.
It didn't matter the Cats turned the basketball over 14 times, or that Calipari admitted he helped the Commodores' last-second cause.
"I gave them a chance to win the game," said the UK coach.
Here's what mattered: A will to win. A will to win, with the talent to do it.
John Wall was what mattered. It wasn't the freshman's best stat line, 13 points, just one assist. Yet with 39.1 seconds left, after driving to the basket, and getting stripped, he somehow got the ball back and scored to give Kentucky a 55-53 lead.
Wait, there's more. Wall made two free throws with 19.9 left to put Kentucky up 57-53. Then when Vandy's John Jenkins nailed a three-pointer, and UK's Eric Bledsoe missed two free throws, it was Wall who used his long arms and ridiculous athleticism to block another Jenkins three-point attempt.
Then he grabbed the ball out of mid-air.
Then he got fouled.
Will to win.
Patrick Patterson was what mattered. The junior buried a monster three-pointer out of the right corner that snapped a 49-all tie. He scored 13 points. He grabbed 13 rebounds. When his younger teammates were losing their heads, Patterson kept his.
"Will to win, refuse to lose," said Calipari. "We're developing that."
OK, there was the crazy deal where the Kentucky coach, fearing his team's youth, called timeout with 2.5 seconds left after Wall had made the second of two free throws.
That allowed Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings, who didn't have a timeout, to set up a near-perfect length-of-the-floor play that would have been perfect had A.J. Ogilvy's runner gone inside the basket.
"Leaked out," said Calipari, still relieved.
Look at the stat line, no way Kentucky wins. The Cats made three of 16 three-pointers. First half, one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country — "The best," said Calipari — had two offensive boards out of 17 chances. The Cats made five of 10 free throws the first half, 12 of 20 the second.
At one point, Bledsoe lost his cool and flat-out shoved Jeffery Taylor, which earned the freshman a foul, then compounded the matter by getting into a chest-bumping jawfest that earned both Bledsoe and Taylor technical fouls. Plus, Bledsoe missed six of eight shots and turned it over three times.
At another point, as he was heading to the baseline bench, DeMarcus Cousins was motioning for the crowd to get louder. An upset Calipari met him as if his hair was on fire.
"We (do) things to give the other team a chance to beat us," Calipari said afterward.
Then, down the stretch, they do some magnificent things. Last Saturday, they outscored Tennessee 13-6 over the final six minutes to win 73-62. On Tuesday, before the Mississippi State fans loosened up their throwing arms, they overcame a 67-60 deficit in the final three minutes of regulation, missed six of their first 12 free throws in overtime, yet won 81-75.
This game, the Cats trailed 49-45 with 6:08 remaining, yet rallied to win.
"The good thing is," said Calipari, "they don't know they're not supposed to win here."
Plus, the talent to win.