John Clay

Is Jarred Vanderbilt the catalyst Kentucky basketball needs?

On a team that often struggles offensively, that at times suffers long stretches when it needs someone to just put the ball in the basket, Jarred Vanderbilt can’t make a shot. Not a one. Not a one-footer. Not a two-footer. It doesn’t matter.

“I’ve never really missed that many in my life,” the Kentucky freshman said Saturday, smiling but shaking his head. “I think I’m No. 1 in the nation in shots missed inside five feet.”

And yet the 6-foot-9 forward from Houston, absent the first 17 games of this 2017-18 season thanks to an injured foot, just might be the key that finally turns over Kentucky’s engine and points these Cats in the right direction.

Take Saturday, otherwise known as Desperation Day, in Rupp Arena. With Big Blue Nation pushed into panic mode with their Cats mired in a four-game losing streak, John Calipari’s young team finally hopped up off the mat to knock off visiting Alabama 81-71 to improve to 18-9 overall and 7-7 in the Southeastern Conference in a must-win affair.

Vanderbilt had a little something to do with stopping the skid. He scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds, including five off the offensive boards as Kentucky crushed the Crimson Tide on the glass 44-27 to win the second-chance points battle 20-11.

“Twenty offensive rebounds,” was what Avery Johnson listed as the difference in the game, then the Alabama coach went on to say that the Tide staff had placed a couple of stars by Vanderbilt’s name in the scouting report.

“You’ll say, ‘Coach did you really have stars by his name?’ I know everybody talks about (Kevin) Knox and (Shai Gilgeous-)Alexander, but in games like this you need a utility guy.”

So far, that is Vanderbilt. He plays with energy. He can defend. He can handle the ball. He can pass the ball. And boy can he rebound the ball — 11 boards in 11 minutes during UK’s win at West Virginia; 10 in 16 minutes during the Cats’ loss at Missouri; 10 in 21 minutes on Wednesday night when UK came up short at Auburn.

After going 4-for-10 from the floor on Saturday — two of his baskets being putbacks and another a jam off a thread-the-needle delivery from Quade Green — Vanderbilt has made just 17 of 50 shots on the season for 34 percent.

That’s led Calipari to compare Vanderbilt to Dennis Rodman, something Vanderbilt doesn’t seem all that crazy about. Besides, Green sees a better comparison.

“I think Jarred’s more like Lamar Odom,” said the point guard from Philadelphia. “He can pass the ball.”

Yes, this is a team that can use some scoring, but it could also use some passing and rebounding. The Cats went through a long stretch of games in which the team assists number languished in the single digits. And though this is not a bad rebounding team, it hasn’t compared to previous Calipari collections that bashed opponents on the boards.

And really, coming down the stretch, especially for a young team that has struggled and hopes to find itself before the madness of March begins, that team needs to do one thing well, really well, exceptionally well.

Given Kentucky’s deficiencies in other areas, maybe rebounding is that thing. Maybe it’s Nick Richards and PJ Washington and Wenyen Gabriel and Vanderbilt all crashing the glass to give the Cats second and sometimes third opportunities. After all, a team that misses so many shots needs all the shots it can get.

As the late addition, Vanderbilt could be the key to that. He has looked a little more comfortable nearly every time out. Saturday was his 10th game and it was also his best all-around game. Except for the shots, of course. But maybe the shot-making can wait.

“(Until then) I just need to do all the little stuff,” he said. “And just imagine late in the season when those shots start falling and we start coming together, it will be even better for our team.”

Jarred Vanderbilt game-by-game

Date

Opponent

MP

FG

3P

FT

O-D-R

PF

TP

A

TO

BS

ST

1/16/18

@South Carolina

14

2-5

0-0

2-4

1-4-5

2

6

3

2

1

0

1/20/18

Florida

13

2-5

0-0

0-0

2-4-6

2

4

0

0

0

0

1/23/18

Miss State

11

1-7

0-0

0-0

4-3-7

2

2

0

0

1

0

1/27/18

@West Virginia

11

0-5

0-0

1-2

7-4-11

1

1

2

1

0

0

1/30/18

Vanderbilt

7

1-2

0-0

1-2

1-2-3

3

3

0

1

0

1

2/3/18

@Missouri

16

1-5

0-0

6-6

4-6-10

4

8

1

1

1

1

2/6/18

Tennessee

15

2-3

0-1

0-0

1-0-1

3

4

0

2

0

1

2/10/18

@Texas A&M

24

3-7

0-0

1-2

3-4-7

5

7

1

3

0

0

2/14/18

@Auburn

21

1-1

0-0

1-2

2-8-10

3

3

3

0

2

0

2/17/18

Alabama

19

4-10

0-0

3-4

5-4-9

2

11

0

1

2

0

Kentucky men’s basketball 2017-18

Date

Opponent

UK

Opp

Dec

Rec

SEC

11/10/17

Utah Valley

73

63

W

1-0

 

11/12/17

Vermont

73

69

W

2-0

 

11/14/17

vs Kansas (Chicago)

61

65

L

2-1

 

11/17/17

East Tennessee

78

61

W

3-1

 

11/20/17

Troy

70

62

W

4-1

 

11/22/17

Fort Wayne

86

67

W

5-1

 

11/26/17

UIC

107

73

W

6-1

 

12/2/17

Harvard

79

70

W

7-1

 

12/9/17

vs Monmouth (New York)

93

76

W

8-1

 

12/16/17

Virginia Tech

93

86

W

9-1

 

12/23/17

vs UCLA (New Orleans)

75

83

L

9-2

 

12/29/17

Louisville

90

61

W

10-2

 

12/31/17

Georgia

66

61

W

11-2

1-0

1/3/18

@LSU

74

71

W

12-2

2-0

1/6/18

@Tennessee

65

76

L

12-3

2-1

1/9/18

Texas A&M

74

73

W

13-3

3-1

1/13/18

@Vanderbilt

74

67

W

14-3

4-1

1/16/18

@South Carolina

68

76

L

14-4

4-2

1/20/18

Florida

64

66

L

14-5

4-3

1/23/18

Mississippi St

78

65

W

15-5

5-3

1/27/18

@West Virginia

83

76

W

16-5

 

1/30/18

Vanderbilt

83

81

W*

17-5

6-3

2/3/18

@Missouri

60

69

L

17-6

6-4

2/6/18

Tennessee

59

61

L

17-7

6-5

2/10/18

@Texas A&M

74

85

L

17-8

6-6

2/14/18

@Auburn

66

76

L

17-9

6-7

2/17/18

Alabama

81

71

W

18-9

7-7

2/20/18

@Arkansas

     

2/24/18

Missouri

     

2/28/18

Ole Miss

     

3/3/18

@Florida

     
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