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Three take-aways from Kentucky basketball’s rousing rally of a win

Injured Isaiah Briscoe: I've got to get my thumb right

Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe talks about his play and his injured thumb after the win over Vanderbilt.
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Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe talks about his play and his injured thumb after the win over Vanderbilt.

Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 73-67 win over Vanderbilt:

1. The comeback

Let’s start with the positive. Kentucky was down 19 points in the first half (25-6) and 13 in the second half (47-34) and yet found a way to rally and beat a Vanderbilt club that arrived at Rupp Arena on a four-game win streak.

How did the Cats do it? For one thing, they turned up the heat on defense. John Calipari went to half-court traps that forced the deliberate Commodores to quicken their pace. The result was 18 Vanderbilt turnovers compared with just 10 assists.

“Coach made the adjustment,” Isaiah Briscoe said. “He wanted to speed them up a little bit.”

For another, they finally got hot offensively. Calipari’s club missed fifteen of its first 17 shots. It shot 31 percent in the first half. In the second half, however, that all turned around. UK was 15 of 26 from the floor over the final 20 minutes for 57.7 percent to end up shooting 43.6 percent for the game.

For the second straight game, Malik Monk heated up in the second half. This wasn’t quite like Saturday, when the freshman scored 30 of his 33 points in the second half of UK’s 76-66 win over Florida. Still, the Arkansas native scored 20 points in the final 20 minutes and finished with 27 for the game.

After committing nine turnovers in the first half, UK committed just two in the second half. The home team ended up with 10 assists and 11 turnovers after being credited with four assists compared with nine turnovers in the first half.

Just as he did after the Florida win, Calipari complimented his team’s fight in rallying for the win.

“If you’re going to win in March, that’s what you have to play like, 40 minutes,” said the coach. “What you saw in the second half. That’s who you’ve got to be, or you’re not winning.”

2. The slow start

On Monday, Calipari said he had been waking up at 3 a.m., unable to sleep with so many thoughts running through his head. In his first question in the post-Vandy press conference Tuesday, Darrell Bird of the Cats Pause asked whether the slow starts were the reason he has trouble sleeping.

“It could be,” said Calipari with a smile. “It could be.”

In their 10-point win over visiting Florida on Saturday, UK trailed 18-6 with 13:09 to go in the first half. Tuesday night, UK trailed visiting Vanderbilt 7-0 right out of the gate, 11-4 with 13:02 left in the half and, as previously mentioned, 25-6 with 8:02 remaining in the first period.

“We weren’t desperate enough to start the game,” Calipari said.

Both times, UK was able to overcome not answering the opening bell. Against Florida, the Cats had rallied to tie the game by halftime, 28-28. Against Vandy, the Cats couldn’t quite get there by halftime, trailing 30-24 at the break.

On the one hand, the comeback was the first time this year Calipari’s team had overcome a halftime deficit to win this season. Previously, it trailed UCLA, 49-45, and lost 97-92. It trailed Tennessee in Knoxville, 39-34, and lost 82-80. It trailed Florida in Gainesville, 34-26, and lost 88-66.

By game’s end, the 19-point deficit was the biggest comeback in the Calipari era, topping the rally from an 18-point deficit to beat Miami of Ohio 72-70 on Nov. 16, 2009. That was John Wall’s first game at Kentucky and Calipari’s second.

“I don’t think we started off slow,” Briscoe said, “but we were missing shots and they were making shots. That happens.”

Perhaps. But the Cats can’t afford to dig such large holes once tournament time rolls around. They’re tempting fate, especially against the better teams that Kentucky will face in March. Calipari knows that. His team knows that.

3. The conclusion

The victory clinched at least a share of Kentucky’s 48th SEC title. The Cats are now 15-2 in the SEC. Florida, which plays Arkansas on Wednesday night, is 13-3. Even if UK loses Saturday at Texas A&M and Florida beats the Hogs and Vanderbilt on Saturday, the Cats can do no worse than a tie.

There were plenty of positive signs Tuesday. On what was his engagement night, Derek Willis made just one shot, but it was a big one, a three-pointer that gave UK its first lead of the night 59-57 with 4:46 to go. Willis also had eight rebounds.

Calipari praised Dominique Hawkins’ fight and defense. The senior played 21 minutes and turned the ball over just once.

Despite playing with an injured left thumb, Briscoe scored seven points, dished six assists and didn't commit a turnover in 31 minutes on the floor. Briscoe’s putback with 1:34 left gave Kentucky a 66-62 advantage.

After missing the Florida game with a bruised knee, De’Aaron Fox looked rusty. He committed five of UK’s 11 turnovers. But Fox did scored 13 points, including a key jumper with 2:13 left that put the Cats up for good, 64-62.

And Bam Adebayo scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds. The freshman center made eight of his 10 free throws.

We’re getting down to crunch time.

“What I’ve been doing is if a guy is not locked in and he’s the guy breaking down, you’ve got to come out now. I don’t care who you are. You can’t be in there,” Calipari said. “And we had a couple of those again today. It’s just, you know, we’ve got a couple. We’ve got this week and we’ve got next week, but that’s it.”

Kentucky senior guard Dominique Hawkins talks about the win over Vanderbilt, Derek Willis proposing to his girlfriend and what Senior Night meant to him.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari talks about Derek Willis proposing to his girlfriend on Senior Day in front of 24,036 at Rupp Arena.

Kentucky senior Derek Willis proposed to his girlfriend on the court during Senior Night ceremonies at Rupp Arena on Tuesday. Here's how he told the team.

Vanderbilt Coach Bryce Drew talks about the final five minutes when Kentucky rallied for a 73-67 win over the Commodores.

Vanderbilt forward Luke Kornet said Kentucky's pressure defense rushed the Commodores in UK's 73-67 win. The son of former Lexington Catholic star Frank Kornet, Luke led Vandy with 21 points.

Kentucky senior Derek Willis proposed to his longtime girlfriend Keely Potts, a fellow UK senior, before the 2016-2017 regular season game in Rupp Arena.

Prior to the Wildcats' final regular season home game against Vanderbilt, Kentucky honored its three seniors and was surprised by a proposal from senior Derek Willis to his girlfriend Keely Potts.

Kentucky wins after trailing at the half in Calipari era

Date

Opponent

UK-1H

Opp-1H

Mrg

UK

Opp

Mrg

11/16/09

Miami (O)

36

39

-3

72

70

2

11/25/09

vs. Stanford

32

38

-6

73

65

8

12/9/09

vs. Connecticut

23

29

-6

64

61

3

1/9/10

Georgia

34

35

-1

76

68

8

3/12/10

vs. Alabama (SEC)

30

35

-5

73

67

6

3/14/10

vs. Miss St (SEC)

31

35

-4

75

74

1

11/23/10

vs. Washington

34

35

-1

74

67

7

2/15/11

Miss State

39

40

-1

85

79

6

3/6/11

@Tennessee

22

29

-7

64

58

6

3/19/11

vs. W.Va. (NCAA)

33

41

-8

71

63

8

12/3/11

North Carolina

38

43

-5

73

72

1

1/3/12

Ark-Little Rock (LOU)

27

30

-3

73

51

22

1/14/12

@Tennessee

28

34

-6

65

62

3

2/21/12

@Miss St

28

41

-13

73

64

9

2/25/12

Vanderbilt

36

37

-1

83

74

9

1/29/13

@Ole Miss

37

38

-1

87

74

13

2/23/13

Missouri

31

35

-4

90

83

7

11/25/13

Cleveland State

27

31

-4

68

61

7

12/21/13

Belmont

41

43

-2

93

80

13

1/8/14

Mississippi St.

37

40

-3

85

63

22

3/4/14

Alabama

25

28

-3

55

48

7

3/23/14

vs. Wichita State (NCAA)

31

37

-6

78

76

2

3/28/14

vs. Louisville (NCAA)

31

34

-3

74

69

5

4/5/14

vs. Wisconsin (NCAA)

36

40

-4

74

73

1

11/16/14

Buffalo

33

38

-5

71

52

19

12/10/14

Columbia

23

25

-2

56

46

10

1/6/15

Ole Miss

36

38

-2

89

86

3

1/10/15

@Texas A&M

25

28

-3

70

64

6

2/7/15

@Florida

28

30

-2

68

61

7

3/12/16

vs. Georgia (SEC)

44

49

-5

93

80

13

3/13/16

vs. Texas A&M (SEC)

34

38

-4

82

77

5

2/28/17

Vanderbilt

24

30

-6

73

67

6

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