By this stage of a college season, talk can be heard of freshmen hitting a metaphorical wall. More games, more competition and more scrutiny than they’re used to. It can be difficult to carry on, perhaps even more so playing for Kentucky.
Then there’s Jarred Vanderbilt. Because a foot injury delayed his debut until Jan. 16, his wall might not be erected until the middle of spring.
“I feel I’m a lot fresher” than the normal freshman, Vanderbilt said Friday. “But, I mean, I’m facing other challenges by just coming in at the middle of the season. So we all have our challenges and forms of adversity that we have to go through.”
Before Vanderbilt had put on a game uniform, his teammates had played 19 games and three exhibitions. Months of practices also moved them along the way to learning each other’s playing styles and anticipating a teammate’s action.
Of belatedly joining teammates, Vanderbilt said, “it’s tough. It’s tough. I don’t think a lot of people realize how tough it is. I pretty much embraced it. I’m all in with whatever happens this season. I’m still learning and trying to get better each day.”
Vanderbilt played arguably his best game so far at Auburn. He grabbed 10 rebounds, which was one shy of his season high, plus equaled a season high of three assists and blocked a season-high two shots. It was a busy 21 minutes.
“I feel I’m starting to find my role,” he said. “Basically try to do everything. Not even much worry about offense. Just try to do little stuff that helps the team play better.”
Alabama comes to Rupp Arena on a two-game winning streak and winners of eight of its 11 most recent games.
After the Tide beat LSU 80-65 Tuesday, Coach Avery Johnson said, “In the second half, we had about a seven- to 10-minute spurt there that was as good a basketball as we’ve played all year.”
Last weekend, Alabama routed No. 15 Tennessee 78-50. It was the Tide’s largest margin of victory over a top 25 team since a 98-49 victory over No. 17 Mississippi State on Jan. 18, 2005. “What an outstanding game we played today,” Johnson said after the game.
The previous weekend, Alabama won 68-50 at Florida. That was the biggest margin of victory ever for the Tide at Florida.
That said, Alabama has only a 2-4 record on the road in SEC play. “We haven’t been very good on the SEC road on a consistent basis,” Johnson said early this month.
Johnson called the game at Kentucky a “test of can we overcome adversity, move on to the next play, take care of the basketball (and) getting off to a good start.”
No awe factor?
Johnson downplayed the notion that his team might be in awe of Kentucky’s traditional dominance. His players are too young to be fully aware of UK’s tradition.
“They’re just going to play basketball, man,” he said of a team that has five freshmen, three sophomores and one senior among its top 11 players. “ . . . I don’t think they’re going to be in awe of anything. They’re just going up there to play basketball.”
UK on Facebook
The online documentary of Kentucky basketball debuts on Facebook Watch on Saturday. A camera crew has been chronicling UK’s season.
UK Coach John Calipari dismissed the idea that the crew’s presence has been distracting.
“We’re all just acting like they’re not here,” he said.
When asked if that was easy to do, Calipari said, “It is for me. I think it is for (the players). We are just literally ignoring them.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said there was no worry about being embarrassed by something said or done that would appear in the documentary.
“It has to go through Coach (Calipari),” he said. “So if he feels it won’t represent us the right way, then he won’t put it out there. So we don’t have to really change ourselves.”
▪ Freshman point guard Collin Sexton leads Alabama in scoring (18.3 ppg) and assists (3.5 apg).
▪ Donta Hall ranks second in the SEC in blocks (2.3 bpg) and anchors a defense that in league play leads in fewest points allowed (64.5 ppg), opponents’ shooting (38.8 percent) and blocks (5.6 bpg). The Tide is second in three-point defense (29.7 percent) and steals (7.0 spg).
▪ Andrew Catalon and Steve Lappas will call the game for CBS.