Three takeaways from Kentucky’s tough 87-81 win at Vanderbilt:
1. Now for something completely different: Cats pull out a close one in a funky gym on the road
There haven’t been many of those this year, close games for this Kentucky team. There was the five-point loss at home to UCLA and the three-point win over North Carolina in Las Vegas and the three-point loss to Louisville in the ‘Ville. That’s it. All the rest have been Big Blue blowouts.
That wasn’t the case Tuesday night in Music City, where Memorial Gym was packed -- announced attendance was 12,707, many of those in blue -- and where in a road conference game this young Kentucky team was forced down the stretch.
Up 75-72 with 3:05 left, the Cats scored on each of their final six possessions. Isaiah Briscoe grabbed a rebound while coming back in from out of bounds and scored with 2:51 left to make it 77-72. With 2:03 left, Briscoe scored again, this time on a drive for a 79-75 lead.
At the 1:17 mark, De’Aaron Fox scored inside to make it 83-79. Then Malik Monk stepped to the line and made four straight free throws. The first two came with 17 seconds left to put UK up 85-81. The last two came with just two ticks remaining and sealed the deal.
“We showed we can win a tough game,” Fox said afterward.
Certainly, Fox and Briscoe were the stars. Briscoe finished with 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting from the floor. Fox added 22 on 11 of 17 shots. Sixteen of Fox’s points came in the second half.
Here’s an impressive stat to remember: T the Cats were credited with a season-low eight assists, but they turned it over just six times on the road. Not bad in that kind of environment.
2. Adjusting to all those whistles
Nashville is known as Music City, but inside Memorial Gym, the main sound came from the whistles of officials Joe Lindsey, Olandis Poole and Ron Groover. The three called 43 fouls, including 23 in the first half.
Monk picked up his second foul just 3:06 into the game. Fox picked up his second foul just 11 seconds later. Dominique Hawkins, who had subbed at guard, picked up his second foul with 7:31 left in the first half.
For one of the few times in his career -- “If I’ve coached 1,000 games, I’ve only done it a handful of times,” John Calipari said -- the Kentucky coach put Monk and Fox back in at different times in the first half with two fouls. Neither picked up a third foul before the half was over.
It was Vanderbilt that battled foul trouble in the second half. With 15 minutes left, the stat sheet starters Luke Kornet, Payton Willis and sub Djery Baptiste all had four fouls. Surprisingly, not a single player from either team fouled out.
Although the tightly called game made much of the night a tough watch, it was a valuable lesson, especially for a team that starts four freshmen.
There are going to be nights like this when the officials fall in love with their whistles, especially come March when the pace of NCAA Tournament play turns slower and the games become more physical. Monk ended up playing 29 minutes. Fox played 25.
Bam Adebayo also ended the night with four fouls, but he scored 14 points, grabbed seven rebounds and, more impressively, made eight of 10 foul shots.
3. John Calipari: We’re not one of those teams
At halftime, a Vanderbilt student hit a half-court shot to win a three-year lease on an Acura. He even got a high-five from Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, who got a good night’s rest so he could be in attendance.
Turned out the kid matched the number of three-pointers Kentucky made on the night.
Some teams rely so much on the three-pointer that when the shots don’t fall, the teams fall apart. “We’re not one of those teams,” Calipari said, and Tuesday night proved it.
Kentucky was just one of nine from behind the arc. It was the fewest number of made threes by the Cats since Dec. 5, 2014, when the Cats made just one of 12 in a win over Texas at Rupp Arena.
Monk made UK’s only three-pointer, that one and only coming just 1:56 into the game. He missed three other threes. Briscoe missed his only three. Fox missed his only three. Wynyen Gabriel missed his only three. Mychal Mulder was zero for two from beyond the arc.
No problem. Kentucky shot 50.7 percent from the field and an impressive 75 percent (18 of 24) from the foul line. The visitors were consistent, making 52.9 percent of their shots from the floor in the first half and 48.5 in the second.
For the night, UK averaged 1.169 points per possession to 1.077 for Vanderbilt. The 1.169 was the lowest PPP for the Cats since 0.949 at Louisville, which was also a road game. In this road game, however, Kentucky prevailed.
Kentucky games with one made three-pointer in last 10 years
vs. West Virginia
vs. Ole Miss (SEC)
vs. Alabama (SEC)
vs. LSU (SEC)
Kentucky men’s basketball 2016-17
Stephen F Austin
vs. Michigan State
vs. Arizona State
vs. North Carolina