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“Magnificent Seven” find way to get 74-67 SEC victory at Vanderbilt

Kevin Knox (Vicky Graff Photo)

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.

Wenyen Gabriel (Vicky Graff Photo)

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.

* * *

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.

19 comments

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  1. Great article, Larry. I see this team getting a little bit better every game. Hope I am correct.

    1. Me too Sarah

  2. Let’s not forget that we still got outscored 2nd half and could have gotten beat if Vandy had hit their normal 3pt % in 1st half. Other than SGA we really can’t count on anyone else for consistency. Knox only seems to give a half a game performance, Hami still can’t seem to put it all together yet, and Nick seems to be content being irrelevant. It might help him if he got a haircut to remove the “birds nest” from his head.

  3. The sky is falling. Everyone head for the hills.. Chicken little is always here to remind us that the sky is falling.

    LOL

  4. That’s funny UKFMLY, Mike never give credit we’re it’s due and you know what this hasn’t been full strength all season long and if ever get there this team will be a different team who we are now. I like the way they play tough down the stretch it’s a good road win regardless who your playing.

    1. I usually don’t respond to that guy, but short handed, on the road, in a crazy looking gym. GREAT WIN, I chose to be positive. It is the least experienced team since Ken Pom added the stat. Plus they are fun to watch,

      1. It’s the least experienced team because of Calipari’s system. So every year when the Cats play lackluster basketball he can use that as an excuse, and does so faithfully. Fun to watch? Yes, if they win. That one yesterday at Vandy got way to close for comfort. UK can’t play defense this year IMO. When in the past has Calipari relied primarily on a 2-3 zone instead of in your face, ball hawking man-to-man D? They can’t defend the three point shot either. That tells me a lot about this current crop of freshmen stars. That Tennessee game was not so much fun to watch in the second half, let’s add that in the discussion. Cal is a strange dude at times, and getting stranger every year. The Jared Vanderbilt situation is about as weird a player coach relationship as I have ever witnessed. That don’t square no way no how. Also his remarks about not getting involved with injured players? Really Coach?

        1. Weird is a good word to use for the Jarred situation here. I just don’t get it

            • Cats79 on January 14, 2018 at 11:55 am

            Larry, I’m just wondering they are hiding something that we don’t know to Jarred situation.

      2. I always say, no bad wins

        1. There are ugly losses and losses that are not so ugly. There are good wins, and there are wins that portend problems with a team, and in that sense, a bad win.

          This season, there have been 14 wins, thus far. Of those wins, there are several that fit the not so good win (bad win) including Utah valley State, Vermont, Troy, Harvard. Of the three losses, Kansas was a loss that was not so ugly, but the UCLA loss was nothing but an ugly loss, and Tennessee was not far behind it on a beauty scale.

          This team is 17 games into a 31 game schedule. The three losses, in terms of the number of losses, is about where I would have expected this team to be at this stage. However, the next 14 games will be taxing, and are clearly the most difficult portion of this scheudule, especially given the overall balance and strength of the SEC. The next 14 games: 8-6. Losing will seem like a new found habit by the first week of March.

          Buckle Up.

            • Cats79 on January 14, 2018 at 2:21 pm

            Professor, again I will stress we haven’t been at full strength all season long, if we get everybody heathy this team will be different what they are now. I like what I’m seeing these guys are playing with guts in my opinion just gotta correct some things there’s time to do it.

  5. Not at full strength? The team is what it is. Vanderbilt, a savior? Really? Is he going to ever play for UK? If he does, when has any player during the Calipari era, joining a team mid season, ever had any kind of real impact of any kind, much less a season changing positive impact? I can’t think of one.

    Green is out with a bad back, but he played in the first 15 games, and what I am looking at is based on all 17 games, not just the last 2. So, Green returns, I don’t see how that changes any thing in a significant way moving forward.

    Wynyard? Well, when has he been a positive factor even when available to play?

    http://bigbluefans4uk.com/2017-18DataandWritings/SPREADSHEET_IMAGES/16_SEASON_RESULTS_AND_PREDICTIONS.png

    Here is the forecast for the next 14 games.

    I urge everyone to share your forecast game by game for the next 14, and in March, let’s sit down and compare notes.

  6. Sounds like you have already given up on this team and it’s only half way point and yes Jarred and Baker can make a Hugh difference . Teams do get hott at the right time weather this team will tell at that time is remain to be seen. But you just don’t give in a middle of the season your not a true blue fan if that’s the case.. Go Big Blue

    1. Cats79, first it is inappropriate to label anyone who posts on Vaughts Views on a regular basis as not a fan because they have a different opinion about the team/season, or about how Calipari is coaching the team, etc. Being a fan does not require eternal optimism or lock step agreement, especially in the face of facts that contradict any basis for the optimism.

      As for my view of how this season will play out, please go back into the Archives of Vaughts Views to mid November of 2017 when I posted my view of the remainder of the season based on the poor start that this team had. This team is getting better. However, the rate of improvement through 17 games in right on track with the projected improvements I outlined in that article based on the results of the first 5 games.

      With 14 games left, tell us all how you see this team performing, game by game, wins/losses and margins. I have already provided mine. I would be pleased to compare notes with you after that last game at Florida in March.

  7. Tai hasn’t given a lot of positives because he hasn’t been give much opportunity with Cal’s quick hook…same as Humphries last year. Playing Richards over Tai…you have got to be kidding me. Brown is waiting for a Scholly while trying to babysit Richards. Is Richards even worth having back next year?

    1. Mike, now you know Cal has no choice but to give his so called freshmen stars all the playing time, generally speaking, in order to get them to the NBA asap after a short stint at old UK. He must clear the deck. He can then recruit another group of phenoms and start all over again, and then complain about how young they are next season. Honestly, he sounds like a broken record. If any of these starting five players are ready for the NBA right now , I’m the fastest gun in the west. I predict if Vanderbilt don’t crack the lineup soon, he will either be back for another year at UK just to prove his ability, or he will transfer out, because something ain’t right about this strange story unfolding, and Calipari only added to the confusion at his last presser. It does look like Calipari would try and play some others on this team a little more, like Tai, if they are able bodied, in order to get more depth. He is going to need it down the stretch of a very good SEC league this year. It also show a lack of confidence in his reserves. They can never improve without playing time. But he is the coach of the famous “Wildcats” so On, On, UK!!! I’m just calling it like I see it.

    2. Mike, lot of upside still for Nick. He was not a five-star recruit because he had no talent

  8. Perhaps he is giving Nick playing time because he thinks getting Nick to play is the team’s best bet for success in the post-season. I would suspect that to be true although I don’t know. If I’m not mistaken, Nick has only been playing organized basketball for a few years. It is frustrating watching him struggle but I’m sure Nick is more frustrated than the fans at this point. If Cal were all about playing the freshmen to the team’s detriment, he would certainly have played Wenyen last year over a more deserving Derek Willis.

    And saying the team is young and full of freshmen is not an excuse in my opinion. It’s a statement of fact.

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