By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Kentucky needed a miracle against Vanderbilt — and got it here Tuesday night.
Vanderbilt had a 70-67 lead with 19.9 seconds to play and Riley LaChance, one of the Southeastern Conference’s best foul shooters, at the line for two shoots. You remember him. He missed four free throws late in Nashville to let UK escape with a win.
Guess what? He did it again. He missed twice and Quade Green scored on a drive with 8.7 seconds left to make it 70-69.
Next Jeff Roberson, who was 9-for-9 at the line, got fouled with 5.8 seconds left. He made one, but missed the second. Still it was 71-69.
“We felt really good about it. I expected him to make both,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said.
It got worse for the Commodores when they fouled Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, UK’s only consistent offensive threat in this game, in the backcourt with 2.0 seconds left. He made both shots to force overtime.
“Unfortunately we were going for a loose ball and committed a foul that we wish we could have back,” Drew said. “But this one hurts. We responded to their runs and had a great chance to win. Kentucky is a good team and eventually their offense caught rhythm and we could not stop them.”
Kentucky had a 78-74 lead with 3:20 left in overtime on a Kevin Knox 3-pointer but Peyton Willis hit his second 3-pointer of overtime and Vandy tied the game at 81-81 with 12 seconds left. However, Green got loose inside the defense again to score with 4.3 seconds left and Willis missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give UK the 83-81 win it should never have got.
Assistant coach Kenny Payne agreed that Kentucky stole a win.
“That’s an understatement. Vanderbilt really outplayed us,” Payne, who did the postgame press conference because coach John Calipari was “under the weather,” said “We won but the coaching staff is not happy. The first half tentative, non-aggressive, defensive lapses. You are going to get beat if play tournament basketball like that. We are not content. Will we be harder on the kids? Yes.”
Gilgeous-Alexander was nothing short of sensational. He had 30 points and was 12-for-19 from the field despite missing his last three shots when he was obviously exhausted. He was 5-for-5 from the foul line.
“Shai has great size and is really shifty,” Drew said. “He uses the change of speed really well.”
Payne said the “will to win” that Gilgeous-Alexander had was inspirational.
“For that kid to fight the way he did for us to win says a lot about him,” Payne said. “There was a lot of adversity for him and he kept fighting.”
Knox, coming off that 34-point game at West Virginia, had 18 points on 6-for-15 shooting. He also had eight rebounds. He struggled early but played his best late in the game when UK needed it most.
“The way Kevin finished the game as opposed to way he started, that was big for him,” Payne said.
Green went 5-for-11 from the field — but got the two big goals when UK needed them — and had 12 points.
“I don’t know exactly how many seconds were on the clock when he got the (winning) layup, but what about his poise,” Payne said. “There were a lot of other things he could have done. But he had the poise to drive to the basket and lay it in the basket. That was a big play.”
Kentucky won despite a season-low seven assists — the third lowest total in the Calipari era — and giving up 36 points in the paint to a team with no size. Kentucky also had no fast break points.
After playing perhaps its best half of the season the second half at West Virginia to overcome a 17-point deficit to win, Kentucky might have played its worst half of the season to trail Vanderbilt 33-27 at halftime even though Vanderbilt didn’t score the final 2:48.
Kentucky had a 21-16 lead before Vanderbilt used a 10-0 run — keyed by two 3-pointers from LaChance — to grab the lead.
UK was 10-for-27 from the field, including 1-for-5 from 3-point range. Kentucky had just ONE assist the entire half. Vanderbilt was not a lot better until its late surge enabled the Commodores to finish 12-for-27 overall from the field and 4-for-10 from 3-point range.
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Earlier Florida lost at Georgia to leave every SEC team with at least three losses except Auburn. The Tigers are 8-1 after winning at Mississippi Tuesday night while Florida is 6-3, Kentucky 6-3, Alabama 5-3 and Tennessee 5-3. Tennessee hosts LSU Wednesday night while Alabama hosts Missouri.