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Gilgeous-Alexander saves Cats from worst loss of Calipari era

Where do we begin?

Kentucky damn near lost to Vanderbilt in a game Kentucky had no business losing. KenPom gave the Cats an 84 percent chance of winning before tip-off; ESPN put it at an 83.6 percent chance of victory. Yet with everyone and their mother expecting a UK win, Vanderbilt led for over 30 minutes Tuesday night, and by as many as 14 points with 15 minutes to go in the game.

It was looking to be the worst regular season loss of the John Calipari era, and at a time when fan excitement and team confidence was at its highest point all season, coming off the improbable win at West Virginia. A loss to Vanderbilt — a team Kentucky already beat in Nashville with a short-handed roster earlier this year — would be the absolute worst. It would be devastating. Not only would it have ripped the new momentum to shreds, it would’ve been the second loss to an unranked opponent in the last three games in Rupp Arena, an unfathomable thought for the Kentucky program. Even further, it would’ve been a loss to a team ranked outside the top 100 RPI, another unfathomable scenario for the Wildcats. The last time UK lost at home to a team outside the top 100 was… I don’t know… Never?

So there we were: hands over our faces, wondering what to make of the embarrassing defeat that was only minutes away. Kentucky had clawed back to within reach several times, but Vanderbilt was always there with a response to regain its cushion, mostly by way of a wide open three-pointer in transition or by beating the press (Ugh). The comeback looked out of reach; the late magic seemed to have expired in Morgantown.

The game was over.

And then Riley LaChance went to the line with 20 seconds to go, Vandy up three. It was redemption time for LaChance, an elite foul-shooter who, uncharacteristically, missed three straight free throws in the final minute of Vanderbilt’s home loss to Kentucky, and hadn’t missed one since. Facing a one-and-the-bonus opportunity, LaChance could end the game for the Commodores and put the past behind him.


LaChance missed the front end and Kentucky had new life. An uncontested layup by Quade Green cut the Vandy lead to one with nine seconds to go, and Kevin Knox quickly (well, not so quickly, actually) fouled Jeff Roberson to send him to the line with six seconds to go. Roberson made the first to stretch the lead to two; then Clank.

Both sides scrambled for the rebound before Jarred Vanderbilt got his hands on it and threw it to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at midcourt as he collided with a defender. A foul was called, 50 feet from the basket, and it sent Gilgeous-Alexander to the line — Kentucky down two, two seconds to go.



Gilgeous-Alexander made both to force overtime in the unlikeliest of finishes for the Wildcats. The true freshman stepped to the line and knocked down both free throws like an unfazed veteran. A moment that would be too big for most, was nothing more than two routine shots for Gilgeous-Alexander. He had ice in his veins with the game on the line as Kentucky, once down and out with little hope for survival, forced overtime in a wild turn of events in the final seconds.

Kentucky would go on to win in OT, although Vanderbilt still made it a fight in the extra time. Payton Willis hit two three-pointers to keep the Commodores around, but the curtains were closed when Quade Green took the ball coast-to-coast to break a late tie with a game-winner in the final seconds.

And though Green made the final basket to win the game, it was Gilgeous-Alexander who was the hero for the Wildcats. He scored a career-high 30 points on 12-for-19 shooting from the field and a 5-for-5 clip at the stripe, including the two under pressure that saved the game. He was unstoppable when he attacked the lanes and he was UK’s only option for most of the night, as well as its most clutch down the stretch.

UK assistant Kenny Payne raved about him after the game, saying, “He’s a really good player, he’s hungry, he’s a high character kid that comes to work every day and smiles and I mean it’s an example of why you come to this school and develop and learn and to be the best.”

Gilgeous-Alexander said of his big moment at the line, “I just tried to think: it’s two normal free throws like we shoot at the end of practice, so I made both to get us to overtime.”

As for Vanderbilt, it’s going to be a long ride home to Nashville after playing well and having so many chances to steal the win. Coach Payne said, “I mean my hat goes off to them because they played so hard and you could say they deserved to win, but welcome to Kentucky.”

Welcome to Kentucky, indeed.

The worst loss of the Calipari era was narrowly avoided despite a lackluster effort defensively.

Thank you, Riley LaChance.

Thank you, Quade Green.


Article written by Drew Franklin

I can recite every line from Forrest Gump, blindfolded. Follow me on Twitter: @DrewFranklinKSR

46 Comments for Gilgeous-Alexander saves Cats from worst loss of Calipari era

  1. ClutchCargo
    1:11 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

    You misspelled Riley LaChoke.

  2. RajonTheDon9
    4:12 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

    What was Gardner Webb during BCG era? But don’t let that distract you from the fact that Matt Jones went to the women’s march.

    • Read for content:

      “…worst loss of Calipari era”

      However, I will say that the SC loss in 14 would have still been the worst.

    • I think it would anyway. I could be wrong, but that SC team was really bad. I suppose one difference could be that this one was at home and I think that one was on the road.

    • UK Big Board Update
      9:24 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      Reading is hard….. the headline triggered the snowflake. LMFAO

    • Eazy
      10:21 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      You conservative snowflakes are hilarious. Always whining and always full of hate. Go back to Europe.

    • Eazy
      10:42 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      Oh, and F Drumpf. It’s hilarious how easily he manipulated poor whites to vote for a billionaire New Yorker. News flash…he couldn’t care less about anyone but multimillionaires and himself. He used others ignorance on things like race and religion to win. Pathetic.

    • Eazy
      10:27 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      You clowns are almost as thin skinned as Trump himself. I guess that’s why you try to call others snowflakes to hide you own insecurities. How about showing some courage instead of whining all the time like most conservatives. And making fun of the women’s march is pathetic. You’d fit in well at Michigan State.

    • MadHatter
      6:22 pm January 31, 2018 Permalink

      Chillax Eazy.

    • jsanford1211
      11:45 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      What about to almost loss to Miami of Ohio that was saved by John Wall? I think that would have been worst.

    • FACTS
      10:31 pm February 1, 2018 Permalink

      MATT JONES WENT TO THE WOMENS MARCH! What?! I now strongly dislike Matt Jones. Women don’t want equality they want to push men down. There is nothing that men get that women don’t. They all act like victims. People call Trump a sexist when he has hired more women in his business than most CEO’s or owners ever.

  3. notFromhere
    4:52 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

    Embarrassed because someone said they should be past rebounding badly after a big win?

    It’s what young teams do. Exceptional young teams are the ones that don’t regress midseason, like the last championship team in 2012. Should be used to it by now and stop expecting otherwise.

    Should anyway

  4. catsarerunnin
    7:35 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

    It would have been a very bad loss but not the worst in the Cal era.

    • Catuary
      10:52 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      As far as I’m concerned the worst loss was against Wisconsin in 2015. I quickly get over most of the others, but 2015 was the season to do something mythical and go 40-0.

      But I get the point, Vanderbilt May have almost been the loss to the worst opponent. But that’s not the same as the worst loss.

    • callitlikeiseeit
      11:27 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      Someone named Robert Morris called and said “what about me”

    • EdC
      11:40 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      I agree on the Wisconsin loss. If WCS gives really anything at all on the offensive end that is another championship. Robert Morris was a bad loss but there is no NIT loss that matters as much as any NCAA tournament loss regardless of how bad the opponent was or what round.

    • satcheluk
      1:25 pm January 31, 2018 Permalink

      In this case worst means loss to biggest underdog, not most devastating to the fan base.

  5. Rabbi Li
    7:42 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

    I have a lot to say about this team. But I realize that none of it matters because all of it will be erased at some time in the near future.

    If you say good, they will prove you wrong. If you say bad, they will prove you wrong.

    So we recognize that as usual we have a team that:

    – “Can beat anyone at any time.”

    Yet this team… this uniquely young team has yet to release it’s dark cloud. So they are the first Calipari team that carries this realization:

    – “Can beat anyone and be beaten by anyone at any time.”

    This is the state of our historic program… in the hands of boys. Half of them have cracked the shell, and half of those have stuck their head out and walked around a bit.

    Several have awakened and looked in the mirror.

    And tomorrow… we will root for the weakest links to rise up and say, “What strengths do I REALLY have, what WEAKNESSES do I really have… and How can I help my team be better to overcome it all?”

    • Booby Petrino
      7:51 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      “Can beat anyone and be beaten by anyone at any time.” My thoughts exactly.

    • Booby Petrino
      7:52 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      and I don’t mean that as a diss. I love this team, even though they are frustrating to watch grow.

    • Rixter
      8:13 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      Very well said, Rabbi.

    • ClutchCargo
      8:30 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      Agree. I spent much of this game telling to myself that as much as playing the way they did against WVU was a step in the development of this team, getting embarrassed by Vandy the very next game was the next step. Glad it had a happy ending!

  6. Rabbi Li
    8:11 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

    PUBLIC NOTICE: You will not play Professional Basketball in the United States if you shoot Free Throws like this (Unless your name is Shaquille O’Neal & you are 7’1″ 325lbs & could dunk over Lebron James at will)

    —— NAME ———– FT%
    Wenyen Gabriel —– 58.3%
    Hamidou Diallo —— 61.5%
    PJ Washington —— 61.2%
    S. Killeya-Jones —– 53.6%

    • Rixter
      8:22 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      I doubt an NBA exec has ever said “this kid does everything well, but he’s a below average FT shooter, I think we’ll pass on him”
      It is, however.. a huge issue in college basketball. Can’t have those kids in late in a close game….

    • Rixter
      8:26 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      What will keep someone like Hami out of the NBA is having a stat like like 0 -3 FG, 2 points, 1 rebound.
      That’s slightly better than MY stat line, and I was drinking beer with my hand down my shorts during the game.

    • CatsandPats
      9:41 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      LMAO oh that killed me! I laughed until my jaws hurt.

    • runningunnin.454
      9:13 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      Worst FT shooter I remember was Wilt Chamberlain at 0.511. He tried everything…he would shoot standing right on the line, he would back up to the very top of the key. He would try it from the far left or right of the key.
      It’s all mental…fortunately, SGA doesn’t have that problem.

    • Rabbi Li
      9:31 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      Rixter – You said, “Can’t have those kids in late in a close game”

      So in other words, they are of no use to when the sport they play is decided.

    • UK Big Board Update
      9:38 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      When shooting FT’s, take advantage of every Lachance you get….

    • BBNDan7
      10:26 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      The way you type on here makes my head numb

    • Rabbi Li
      6:57 pm January 31, 2018 Permalink

      BBNDan7 – Your head was already numb. I just help you recognize it.

  7. Rixter
    8:14 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

    Kentucky damn near lost to Vanderbilt in a game Kentucky had no business losing.
    Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt in a game Kentucky had no business winning.

  8. SoCalCat
    8:18 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

    I think people’s expectations for this team are too high. While the WV win was nice, let’s not think they were an outstanding team with lofty expectations that was taken down. I think Drew had money on this game 🙂 .

    8:47 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

    This is your typical “let down” game after a big win. These guys went to war on Saturday and they were expected to be 110% for a 9:00 PM tipoff three days later? They won and certain players proved who had toughness tonight – SGA’s stock just jumped on the draft board. Others proved they are still soft and ineffective – Gabrial, Hami, SKJ…? Where were you? Hami’s stock just keeps dropping as the season progresses. He’s an amazing athlete, but not an NBA caliber player (yet). I’ll take the win and I like these tough “close” games that develop character and a fighting mentality. Remember our “Comeback Cats”?

    • runningunnin.454
      9:21 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      I remember them; but, I was much younger then. I’ll take a couple of easy wins now, thank you very much in advance.

  10. Smyrna_Cat
    8:53 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

    Wow, and I here I thought it was the Wisc. game in the Final Four that ended our perfect season and prevented another championship. I thought that was our worse lose.

    Thank you, wonderful KSR writers, for correcting me.

    • ClutchCargo
      9:00 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      Losing to a legitimate final four team is our worst loss? No way. Most disappointing? Most heartbreaking? I will go along with that.

    • BBNDan7
      10:28 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      He said “worse regular season loss”. Reading is difficult

    • satcheluk
      1:28 pm January 31, 2018 Permalink

      People read the same words and see what what they want to see. Clutch cargo was right.

  11. Smyrna_Cat
    9:03 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

    Do other teams thank players of other teams when they miss shots, or when refs DO NOT make horrible calls against them? I just wondered. Or is that just a KSR thing?

  12. Underdog
    9:08 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

    I cringed at the end when I saw Hami defending LeChance.

    And then it of course happened. The low-basketball reach. 30 feet from the basket. Then, like any high-bball player would do, LeChance makes Diallo pay, and drives by him for a layup as Diallo tries the habit-entrenched SECOND reach from BEHIND as he observes LeChance proceed to make an embarrassing layup.

    We had so many lapses like the one described above. In June, the pros will take Shai and leave us with Hami who hasn’t yet learned BASIC fundamentals of the game. Time is running out for you, Hami, to correct there easily-correctable habits. Don’t reach (and get out of position) and move your darn feet!

    • Smyrna_Cat
      9:10 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      So, now we are saying time is running out on a freshman? Hyperbole much.

    • Smyrna_Cat
      9:11 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

      And kudos to Hami for his D against WVU. He still has work, but don’t most freshman?

  13. Smyrna_Cat
    9:08 am January 31, 2018 Permalink

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by “worst loss.” The Wisc was the most heartbreaking. Are we just talking about what was the biggest upset? How about the Robert Morris loss in the NIT. If we has loss against Vandy, we would have been disappointed … but I am disappointed with any loss. Nothing more than that. It seems some thought this was an automatic gimme game, and forget all about our team being so young and inconsistent. One good game – or half – doesn’t change that.