No. 18 UK di­als up its in­ten­sity again af­ter lat­est slug­gish start

Dayton Daily News - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - By Gary B. Graves

LEX­ING­TON, KY.— Ken­tucky be­lieves it will fig­ure out how to start games with the fo­cus and re­solve it has shown in clos­ing them.

Now would be fine by coach John Cali­pari af­ter again watch­ing his No. 18 Wild­cats hav­ing to scrap past Van­der­bilt.

Ash­ton Ha­gans and Kel­don John­son each scored 15 points and com­bined to rally Ken­tucky from an­other slow start in a 56-47 win over Van­der­bilt on Satur­day night.

“We’ve got to fig­ure out how we start games, this is get­ting ridicu­lous,” the coach said af­ter the Wild­cats (12-3, 2-1 South­east­ern Con­fer­ence) had to climb from a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive dou­ble-digit hole in the early min­utes.

“It’s five halves in a row where we just start the game and we’re get­ting smashed.”

This time it was Ken­tucky’s ini­tial fail­ure to de­fend the Com­modores’ perime­ter shoot­ing, which pro­pelled them to a 16-5 lead and 30-28 edge at the break. Van­der­bilt was pretty ef­fec­tive in­side the arc as well, shoot­ing 11 of 22 over­all and hang­ing in as Ken­tucky slowly closed the gap.

John­son and Ha­gans then took over and com­bined to score the first seven points of the sec­ond half for the Wild­cats’ first lead at 35-30. Ken­tucky steadily pulled away for its sec­ond con­sec­u­tive win, de­spite a sea­son low in points.

“It’s just click­ing to­gether and not let­ting up on the de­fen­sive end,” said Ha­gans, who made 7 of 9 shots and had four as­sists and three steals. “As the sea­son goes along, we’re go­ing to click on at the be­gin­ning of the game and just get it go­ing from there.”

Ken­tucky shot 53 per­cent af­ter half­time and 50 per­cent over­all, while hold­ing Van­der­bilt to just 6 of 25 (24 per­cent) in the fi­nal 20 min­utes. Three-point de­fense was key as the Wild­cats al­lowed just 2 of 14 in the sec­ond half.

“We gave up some 3s to guys that usu­ally make shots,” Ken­tucky guard Im­manuel Quick­ley said, “and we had to press up on them, make them drive and I think we did that.”

The Wild­cats also out­re­bounded the Com­modores 38-21, with Reid Travis’ 12 boards lead­ing the way. Quick­ley’s out­side shoot­ing also helped as he had 12 points with three 3s for the Wild­cats.

Aaron Ne­smith had 11 points, while Saben Lee and Joe Toye added nine apiece for Van­der­bilt (9-6, 0-3), which shot be­low 40 per­cent for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive game.

“I thought our team made huge strides from our first two con­fer­ence games,” Com­modores coach Bryce Drew said. “We moved the ball much, much bet­ter and I thought we all played to­gether — much, much bet­ter in a tough en­vi­ron­ment on the road.”

Just sore, is all

John­son and Ha­gans both left the game briefly in the sec­ond half with in­juries. John­son banged his right knee on the floor and limped off. Ha­gans was helped off with a back in­jury sus­tain­ing while fall­ing on an­other player’s foot. Both said they were OK.

Poll im­pli­ca­tions

Ken­tucky should move up a few spots in what fig­ures to be a reshuf­fled Top 25.

Big pic­ture

Van­der­bilt: Ev­ery­thing started well enough for the Com­modores, who started 5 of 11 from long range and seemed to thwart ev­ery Ken­tucky at­tempt to go ahead in the first half. Poor shoot­ing was only part of their sec­ond-half woes, as they strug­gled to slow Ken­tucky on of­fense and couldn’t stop the ’Cats on the glass.

“In the first half we con­trolled the pace,” Drew added. “We knew the sec­ond half was go­ing to be cru­cial and they went on that 7-0 run to start and we just couldn’t catch up.”

Ken­tucky: Credit the Wild­cats for again shak­ing off a slug­gish be­gin­ning to fin­ish strong. They owned just about ev­ery statis­tic, but over­pow­ered the Com­modores on the boards and in the paint (32-16). But it in­volved an­other wakeup call, a trou­bling trend they must avoid the deeper they get into their con­fer­ence sched­ule.

Up next

Van­der­bilt hosts South Carolina on Wednes­day night, look­ing to avenge last year’s 71-60 loss.

Ken­tucky vis­its Ge­or­gia on Tues­day night.


Ken­tucky’s Nick Richards dunks Satur­day against Van­der­bilt as the Wild­cats over­came an early 16-5 deficit to post a 56-47 SEC win. De­fense was the name of the game as UK held Vandy to 24 per­cent shoot­ing af­ter half­time.

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