Kentucky improved to 3-6 (2-0 in SEC play) on the season after a 77-74 victory over the visiting Vanderbilt Commodores. It was a back-and-forth affair for most of the night, as each team traded punches until the very end.
In fact, the game was so tightly contested that Vandy’s final shot at the buzzer, a three by Heshimu Evans, bounced on the rim three times before finally falling to the ground.
This bad-luck shooting was not always the case for Vanderbilt in the game, as they went 8/17 from three in the first half, leading them to a 40-33 halftime lead (Vandy has now led at half four out of the last five games at Rupp Arena). Meanwhile, Kentucky just couldn’t find a rhythm from outside the arc (1-8) and was mostly getting outhustled on the boards and with loose balls. Once halftime played through and the second half buzzer rang, however, Kentucky immediately went on a 15-5 run and the back-and-forth battle ensued.
Olivier Sarr had his most complete game as a UK player, scoring a team-high 24 points on 5/10 shooting from the floor and 14/17 from the line before picking up his fifth foul in the closing minutes. Dontaie Allen did not have as explosive of a shooting night, but made some clutch plays and finished with 14 points on 4/10 shooting from the floor. More than anything, however, Allen’s presence has created extra spacing on the floor allowing bigger lanes for other players to go to work.
“It’s pretty such self-explanatory, it opens up the court a lot,” Sarr said of the KY-native’s shot-making. “It makes it easier for us to play our game.”
Rhode Island tranfer Jacob Toppin finished with just six points, but his energy was a difference maker down the stretch. He also set the down-screen that allowed Davion Mintz to hit a three with 47 seconds left which gave UK a 77-74 lead, proving his impact on the floor.
“We were in that game because of Jacob (Toppin),…he was huge today in getting a win for us,” Creighton tranfer Davion Mintz said.
As a team, Kentucky finished with just two turnovers, the least in the shot-clock era for the Cats. UK Head Coach John Calipari alluded to the team cutting down on giveaways, saying after the game they had been working on it for the last few weeks. Plus, they shot an elite 26/32 from the free throw line.
With that said, they still need to get freshman forward BJ Boston going, as he finished with just six points on 3/9 shooting and did not play for the final six minutes of the matchup. Plus, freshman guard Terrence Clark and sophomore forward Keion Brooks Jr. are still out due to injury, so this team is long from a complete roster hitting their potential.