By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky’s “Magnificent Seven” managed to find a way to win again — even if once again it was not always picture perfect.
The Wildcats got five straight clutch points from Kevin Knox — and some unexpected misses at the foul line by Vanderbilt’s Riley LaChance — to hold off Vanderbilt 74-67 Saturday in Nashville.
Point guard Quade Green and center Tai Wynyard did not play again due to back injuries, leaving coach John Calipari with just seven healthy scholarship players. However, the Cats shot 55 percent from the field and got 36 points in the paint. They also got to the foul line 37 times and made 25 to move to 4-1 in SEC play.
Kentucky had a 36-27 lead at halftime after falling behind 6-2 to start the game. However, with 7 minutes, 48 seconds to play Vanderbilt got a 56-55 lead and the game was tied 59-59 with 5:01 left.
That’s when Knox, who has struggled in recent games, had a three-point play inside the lane and then scored on the next possession off a Wenyen Gabriel assist.
“That is toughness right there, making a shot when a team needs a big play,” ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said.
“It was nice to see Kevin step up there. He gave us energy when we needed it,” Gabriel said.
“I told the guys on the bench whether we lose or not, he has to figure this out. He was not settling. He went right to the rim. That’s what he has to do,” Calipari said about Knox, who had 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting (7-for-7 at the foul line). “It’s not fair to put him in that spot, but we have to do that. You are talking a 6-9 guy who should attack.”
Kentucky pushed the lead to 66-59 with 2:05 to play on a Gabriel putback but just as it did in Tuesday’s win over Texas A&M, UK stumbled inside the final minute after a 10-2 run made it 69-61.
The Cats gave up a 3-pointer, gave up a basket in the paint, made a turnover against the press on an inbounds pass and failed a 3-point shooter. Gabriel also missed two free throws. Yet UK hung on thanks to LaChance, an 89 percent foul shooter, missing all three free throws when he was fouled on a trey with UK leading 70-66.
Gabriel had nine rebounds, seven points, two blocks, one steal and one assist in 29 minutes. His only drawback was he went 0-for-4 from 3-point range.
“Wenyen’s effort, you have to keep him in the game,” Calipari said. “I thought Sacha (Killeya-Jones) played well, but we just went with a smaller lineup late and stayed with it.
“But Weynen was ridiculous again today. He missed some shots but his energy and battling after balls and what he does … the kid is getting better and better. I told the guys after the game he was unbelievable.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his impressive play with a game-high 22 points, six assists, four rebounds and one steal.
“Shai was terrific again,” Calipari said.
Hamidou Diallo had 10 points (including a 3-point shot that pushed the lead to 69-61), three rebounds, two blocks and one assist. Both Diallo and Gilgeous-Alexander played 39 minutes with Green out.
“This team is happy. The guys playing a lot of minutes are happy,” Calipari said.
Calipari said he didn’t know when the freshman point guard would be back.
“I have to focus on the guys I am coaching right now,” Calipari said.
P.J. Washington had 10 points, eight rebounds and two assists in 38 minutes but did not play as well as he had been.
“P.J. didn’t have the spirit today he has had. He is playing good and shooting the ball much better, but he has to do more. They crowded him a little bit. He was not as alert to catch as he was before,” Calipari said. “I am asking for the impossible from this team. I am asking them to go on the road in a hostile environment … But my job is to ask the impossible,”
Kentucky gave up 12 offensive rebounds, but only six second-chance points. The Cats also limited Vanderbilt to 6-for-25 shooting from 3-point range, but the Commodores did hit five 3’s in the second half
“We could not guard them. They were not settling for jumpers. They made tough jumpers,” Calipari said about Vanderbilt, which finished 21 for 55 from the field.
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Freshman Jarred Vanderbilt was in uniform for the first time this season but did not play. He has been out all season with a leg injury.
Calipari said he didn’t know if Vanderbilt was going to play or not Saturday.
“I don’t push kids.They know their pain and also know their bodies. It’s not physical. It’s as much mental. When he’s ready, he’ll be there,” Calipari said.