Oh, what a night. From Derek Willis’ pregame proposal to Vandy’s hot start and Kentucky’s gutsy second half rally, the Cats sent the seniors off in thrilling fashion. After being down 25-6 with 8:03 to go in the first half, Kentucky pulled off the largest comeback of the Calipari era, beating Vanderbilt by a final score of 73-67. It wasn’t pretty, but for the third time in four games, the Cats ground out a win after playing horrible basketball in the first half.
Let’s break it down and go to bed.
Man, that first half was bad
I feel like I’ve typed this a lot recently, but there aren’t enough adjectives for how bad Kentucky looked in the first half. We all chalked it up to Senior Night jitters when Vandy jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but after the Cats continued to miss easy buckets, all of our fears about this squad started creeping back in. Vandy got ahead by as many as 19 before Kentucky began to chip away, the Cats narrowing the gap to six at halftime.
In the first half, Kentucky shot only 31% from the field, 20% from three, and committed nine turnovers to only four assists. Malik Monk was ice cold and wouldn’t warm up until the very end of the game. Thank goodness he did.
Malik Monk had 20 points in the second half
Tonight’s game felt like a carbon copy of the Florida game for many reasons, the most obvious being Malik Monk’s huge second half. After going 3-10 in the first half, Monk finally got going in the second, scoring 20 points, including a huge three to put the Cats up by two with 3:40 left and another to push the lead to seven with 49 seconds left:
Like we said on Saturday, when Malik’s playing like he did in the second half, you have to feel better about March.
“He’s getting better,” Cal said of Monk. “You’re all seeing it. He’s maturing right before our eyes. He had one bad play, where he took it down to the corner, and shot a foot kicker, which he never makes. Other than that, and, again, that play is set up for him to try to do that, and then throw it back if he doesn’t have a shot and get it back anyway. All we’re saying to him is be patient. If you don’t have it right away, we’re coming back at you.”
All three seniors had big moments
It’s fitting that on Senior Night, all three players in Calipari’s most productive senior class made key contributions. Mychal Mulder hit a crucial three when Vandy was up 25-6 to help jump start Kentucky’s comeback; Dominique Hawkins hustled and defended a seven-footer; and Derek Willis gave Kentucky the lead with 4:47 to go. It was Derek’s only bucket of the night, but it may have been the most important one Kentucky scored all night:
“How about Derek Willis’s three? Woooo!” Cal said on his postgame radio show. “Big time…he played good, and he got engaged.”
Yes he did:
Derek Willis with the Senior Night proposal! pic.twitter.com/JHybsduKBv
– Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) March 1, 2017
Yeah, guys, good luck topping that one.
Vandy played like a team fighting for the postseason
You have to give it to the ‘Dores. They came in to this game on a heater that had them on the bubble for a tournament bid. After sprinting out to a huge lead off an impressive mark behind the three-point line, they cooled off a bit, but were still in control of the game until there was five minutes left. The second half was a bloodbath, and if not for Kentucky finally hitting some shots, who knows, the ‘Dores could have pulled off the upset. Seriously, shoutout to Bryce Drew’s squad, who has really turned it around this year.
“We played a team, that, again, is playing out of their minds right now,” Calipari said. “That’s an NCAA tournament team. I don’t care what you say. They’ve got the number one schedule in the country.”
Isaiah Briscoe was one tough cookie
Briscoe was the hero vs. Vanderbilt in Nashville back in January, and in what was probably his final game in Rupp, turned in some more heroics, finishing with 7 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and zero turnovers. Briscoe took an forearm to the face from Luke Kornet five minutes into the second half that had Calipari so furious at the refs he got a technical, and a few minutes later, Briscoe ran into the tunnel with a trainer with his hand wrapped in towels, but he returned after the timeout with his left thumb taped up. In true Briscoe fashion, he came back in and not only finished the game, but made some crucial plays, including a rebound and put back with a minute and a half left to push Kentucky’s lead to four. In a game in which De’Aaron Fox clearly wasn’t at 100%, Briscoe and Hawkins held down the fort tonight.
Closing’s great, but can we get off to a better start?
Ultimately, there are things to be happy about. Kentucky got the win despite only scoring six points in the first 12 minutes, they made a huge comeback, and held off Vandy down the stretch. Going into March, you want a team that can find a way to win, but in the same sense, the Cats can’t afford the slow starts that have plagued them the past few weeks.
“We weren’t desperate enough to start the game,” Calipari said. “That’s how you’ve got to play basketball in March. You’ve got to fight and stick together. You can’t fight and then everybody go do their own thing. You can’t win a basketball game.”
As the clock runs out on this season, let’s hope Kentucky figures out how to play desperate the entire game and not just the last five mintues. Until then, be safe in the storms tonight and enjoy the replay of the Senior Night festivities: