Kentucky is now 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference and 14-3 overall after traveling down to Nashville to beat Vanderbilt, 74-67, on Saturday. The Cats played with only seven scholarships available for a second straight game; and for a second straight game, they made the plays down the stretch to escape with a tough victory.
Ten takeaways from the W:
Riley LaChance choked at the foul line.
Of all the storylines from the game, the one that sticks out most is Vanderbilt’s reliable senior missing three consecutive free throws while down four late in the game. LaChance is an 89-percent shooter from the stripe and he was gifted a trip to the line to potentially cut his team’s deficit to one. If he makes those, who knows how everything plays out? Maybe Vandy wins it in the end. But he didn’t, and Hamidou Diallo’s inexplicable foul (after UK’s inexplicable turnover) is forgotten. Diallo owes LaChance a thank you card — as do I for other reasons, of the gambling nature.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander solidified his spot as the best player on the team.
I don’t think it’s up for debate any longer: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the best player on Kentucky’s roster. He led the team in scoring once again with a game-high 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, plus four rebounds and six assists, in 39 minutes played. It was assumed Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo would be the two most important players on the team, but Gilgeous-Alexander is that guy. He’s always been the best defender, and now he’s the best weapon on offense too.
Wenyen Gabriel is the unsung hero once again.
Gabriel did what he does in every game: he scrapped, clawed and battled to come up with some of the biggest rebounds, loose balls and defensive stops in the game. The shot wasn’t falling again in this one, but he’s not going to leave the court when he is doing everything else.
“Wenyen was ridiculous again today,” Coach Cal said on his postgame show. “His energy and him going and battling for balls and what he does… I told the kids after the game, he was unbelievable.”
Nobody on the team has listened to Calipari’s toughness message more than Gabriel. He’s a fighter and a hustler, and he’s getting more and more confidence in himself with his good play.
Do we give up on Nick Richards?
I don’t know what to make of Nick Richards. The big man started off with more energy than we’ve seen from him in over a month, but then he quickly disappeared before having any kind of an impact on the game. This was the perfect opportunity for him to put up some numbers and find some confidence against a weak Vanderbilt frontcourt; instead he took a seat in the second half and never returned to the game, playing only 12 minutes the entire evening, 11 of which were in the first half. How much longer until we say ‘see ya next year’?
Quade Green needs to return soon.
The Cats survived two huge challenges without their starting point guard, but they can’t be expected to keep doing it. With Green on the bench in street clothes, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has had to play 39 minutes in each of Kentucky’s last two games, while Hamidou Diallo played 34 against Texas A&M and then 39 against Vanderbilt. That’s too much to ask of the backcourt, although they’ve handled it well. Come back soon, Quade.
Late game mistakes still a problem.
However, it’s not enough of a problem to cost them the game. As they did against A&M in Rupp, the Cats handed their opponent an opportunity when the game should’ve been out of reach for good. And again the opponent didn’t capitalize as UK was able to close out a victory in spite of freshman mistakes.
We’ll take it.
Hamidou Diallo made a HUGE three-pointer.
Diallo still had his Diallo moments, but he hit the dagger in the corner to stretch the lead to eight points with a little over a minute to go. If not for that shot I’d probably be crushing him for playing too much Hami-ball and that horrible foul on LaChance.
Kevin Knox got back to his old ways.
Knox was second in scoring with 17 points for Kentucky. He made some big baskets when Vanderbilt was climbing back and he was perfect from the line in the game. It seems he’s over whatever bug bit him when he looked lost and unconformable during his minor slump, and it’s great to see him back.
P.J. Washington flirted with a double-double.
Washington had 10 points and eight rebounds against the Commodores, but not enough to earn praise from his head coach because Calipari called it an “off-day” for Washington.
Not a bad off-day, huh?
I have Washington up there with Gilgeous-Alexander in the importance rankings, ahead of Knox and Diallo.
Road wins are good wins, especially this year.
With the SEC beating each other up this season, any road win in the conference is a good one. For Kentucky, they won another hard-fought test in a hostile building, and they did it without their starting point guard.
On to the next one…