By LARRY VAUGHT
For the second straight game, Kentucky got down by 10 points early in Rupp Arena to a team it was favored to beat by double digits.
But just as it did against Texas A&M on Tuesday, the Cats came back against Vanderbilt Saturday night and won 56-47 in a game that even Kentucky coach John Calipari admitted was ugly.
Kentucky limited Vanderbilt to just 7-for-25 shooting in the second half — the Commodores opened the game hitting their first three 3-pointers — and got 15 points each from Ashton Hagans and Keldon Johnson along with 12 from Immanuel Quickley to secure the win.
“They made us play. They came in with game plan to make the game ugly and it was,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “But I will say this, ugly wins are fine.”
Southeastern Conference rivals Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Mississippi State would all have been happy with “ugly” wins Saturday because they all lost at home.
Calipari said his team has to play with more “desperation” to start SEC games because it got bad starts against Alabama, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
Former UK player Roger Harden noted on Twitter how “out of sorts and unconnected” the Cats looked in the first half when they trailed 30-28 at intermission before a 7-0 run to start the second half gave UK the lead for keeps.
Vanderbilt’s zone defense kept UK’s offense how of sync and that disappointed Calipari because he spent Thursday and Friday preparing his team for the zone defense he saw Vanderbilt use against Kansas State and Georgia.
“We spent two days working against the zone and how ugly did it look,” Calipari said. “You can’t catch the ball 30 feet from the basket (to start the offense). We weren’t able to get the ball to PJ (Washington), Reid (Travis) or Nick (Richards) because we were 30 feet out (from the basket starting the offense).”
Kentucky made a season-low four 3-point shots (the Cats were 4-for-16 from 3-point range). Freshman Immanuel Quickley made three of seven 3-pointers.
“I think teams will play us zone. Hopefully we won’t go 4-for-16 on 3-point shots. We had open looks but didn’t make them,” Calipari said.
Kentucky also made a season-low eight free throws on 14 tries. Travis went 1-for-2 and missed the front end of the bonus late in the second half and PJ Washington was 1-for-4 and also missed the front of the bonus.
“In tough games, we have to have them make those,” Calipari said.
However, the two combined for 20 rebounds — Travis had 11, Washington nine — to help UK dominate the rebounding 38-21. Washington had five offensive rebounds.
Hagans was 7-for-9 from the field and had four assists, four rebounds and three seals in 33 minutes. He also had five of UK’s 15 turnovers and Johnson, who was 6-for-8 from the field, had four turnovers.