Thank heaven Kentucky made a three-pointer early Tuesday night, with Malik Monk swishing one from the top of the key just 1:56 into the Cats’ hard-fought 87-81 victory at Vanderbilt.
Had it not been for Monk’s three-ball, as the clock ticked down to game’s end, no doubt the history and statistical minded of the Big Blue Nation would have been thrown into a widespread panic over the possible ending of “the streak.” You know, the streak of games in which Kentucky has made at least one three-point shot.
Thanks to that one solitary three, the streak now stands at 991.
And despite making just one of nine three-point shots, Kentucky won anyway.
“I told (the team) after the game, we were 1-for-9 from the three and I was ecstatic,” UK Coach John Calipari said. “Because when you’re 1-for-9 and you still win, it proves to your team you do not need to make threes to win.”
It’s true. Try this stat on for size: Since the 2008-09 season, including Tuesday night, Kentucky has had eight games in which it has made just one three-point shot. Kentucky won all eight of those games.
The key was not the number of threes Kentucky made, but the number of threes it attempted. Seeing that the three-ball wasn’t falling, Calipari’s club refrained from forcing shots from beyond the arc. The nine attempts were the fewest since UK was 2-for-9 in a win at Alabama last season.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the floor, Vanderbilt entered the night leading the SEC in three-point percentage at 40.3. Tuesday, Bryce Drew’s Commodores jacked up 29 three-point attempts, but made just eight for 27.6 percent. And lost.
“Many teams in the country, if they’re not making threes they’ve got no chance of winning,” Calipari said. “We’re not one of them.”
The numbers are on his side. Kentucky is 193rd in the nation in three-pointers with 115. The Cats are 201st in three-point percentage at 34.2. And they are 14-2 overall and 4-0 in the SEC.
One reason the lack of three-pointers didn’t damage the Cats’ cause on Tuesday was how well UK shot the ball from two. Kentucky was 33-for-58 from inside the arc for 56.9 percent.
Isaiah Briscoe (23 points) and De’Aaron Fox (22) were particularly effective. Once again, Briscoe exhibited a crafty and uncanny talent for getting the ball to the rim. Seven of his 10 field goals came off drives to the hoop. And Fox showed encouraging signs of developing a devastating mid-range game.
Six of Fox’s 11 field goals were jumpers from the lane or the wing. Over his last two games, the freshman has made 21 of 33 shots.
“He’s really spending time in the gym right now,” Calipari said. “He’s really mastering his craft.”
We know, of course, that the preseason questions about this Kentucky team concerned outside shooting. Did the Cats have enough perimeter power to keep defenses honest? Would opposing coaches draw up various zones to keep the long, athletic Cats from owning the paint, thereby forcing them to shoot from outside?
And yes, there will be games in which the Cats will have to make threes. That CBS Sports Classic matchup with North Carolina in Las Vegas was one of those games. Kentucky made 10 three-pointers that afternoon. Monk accounted for eight of those on the way to his 47 points. Kentucky won by three.
Remember, the Cats were 13-for-25 from beyond in the arc in last week’s 100-58 thrashing of Texas A&M. Five of the threes belonged to Monk. Eight belonged to various other Cats.
So while Kentucky can make three-pointers, Tuesday proved it doesn’t have to.
Auburn at No. 6 Kentucky
4 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)
Games over last 10 seasons in which Kentucky made just one three-pointer
vs. West Virginia
vs. Ole Miss (SEC)
vs. Alabama (SEC)
vs. LSU (SEC)