One Day, Two UK Games, Two Wins
Saturday was an interesting day for your humble correspondent, beginning with a trip to Rupp Arena, where I hosted the “Countdown to Tipoff” show for the UK IMG Sports Network. Oscar Combs, Tom Leach, Mike Pratt and I examined the upcoming Vanderbilt-UK basketball came from every conceivable angle, never dreaming we would see the kind of effort from Anthony Davis that carried the Wildcats to their 83-74 victory.
But give Oscar credit; he pointed out that these games down the stretch, especially the ones on national TV, give players like Davis the opportunity to show the folks who vote for Player of the Year awards what they can do. Davis certainly took advantage of his opportunity, with a career-high 28 points, plus 11 rebounds and six blocked shots.
Little did we know Kansas’ Thomas Robinson would have a similar effort, helping the Jayhawks erase a 19-point homecourt deficit with 28 points and 12 rebounds in an 86-85 KU overtime victory.
I didn’t get to watch Kentucky’s victory in person. As soon as the pre-game show was over, I skee-daddled from Rupp to Cliff Hagan stadium, where I called the UK-Buffalo baseball game on radio.
I kept an eye on basketball as the Bulls jumped all over the Wildcats for five first-inning runs, and kept the home team quiet for three innings. UK broke through with a single run in both the fourth and fifth innings, and then it was bombs away – THREE home runs in the sixth inning and another in the seventh. The Wildcats’ bullpen locked up the visitors and Kentucky had won its fifth straight without a loss to open the season.
So, it was home to the Man Cave to watch the DVR recording of the basketball game.
While I was on the air with baseball, two friends sent me texts, both assuming I was at Rupp Arena. One works for Vanderbilt University; he jokingly asked me to remind the CBS announcers that Vandy was playing, too. There you have it – a fan of the team playing AGAINST Kentucky, complaining about the announcers. Isn’t that a move usually reserved for Big Blue fans?
My other buddy simply sent me this: MKG = LBJ. It was something he had said before – that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is UK’s version of Lebron James. No, he’s not as outrageously gifted, but Kidd-Gilchrist, a power forward, is capable of shooting, rebounding, handling, running the floor and guarding. He sliced to the basketball all day long and did a monumental job on slowing Vandy all-star Jeffrey Taylor, who got his, but not without paying a price.
Watching the game unfold on the flat screen (already knowing the final score), I took note of things such as…
Marquis Teague’s three turnovers inside the game’s first three minutes.
Davis, missing a jumper from the outside (just as he did early at Mississippi State) but eventually ending up with an offensive rebound and scoring. Watch for Davis to shoot more from the perimeter in an effort to open up lanes for the UK guards. Yes, he’s the low post man, but ask yourself this: how many times did Teague have an open lane to the bucket against Vandy?
Kentucky rebounders on the offensive end worked quickly to get the ball back up on the rim. Calipari has preached that from day one – if you’re close to the basket, shoot, he says. We’ll get the rebound and put it back in. On one possession, Davis had a follow slam and, on the next, Darius Miller quickly put it up so Terrence Jones could jam it home.
Give Vandy credit. The Commodores were down double-digits and fought back. Miller’s layup with 7:47 left gave UK a 66-56 lead, but the ‘Dores weren’t done. A 9-0 run pulled Vanderbilt to within 66-65. It could have been a tie game, but John Jenkins missed the second of two free.
That’s when Davis coolly sank a jumper that put the Cats back up by three, and Vandy never got any closer.
It may have had a chance with the clock winding down as Kentucky struggled to find a shot. The Cats found Davis again, with four seconds left on the shot clock, and he buried another J. UK 75, Vandy 68, 1:05 remaining.
The Commodores made it 75-70 in the final minute and had another shot, but missed. Miller pulled off a clutch rebound and rifled a pass to Jones for a dunk, giving Kentucky a 77-70 advantage. Vandy came down for one last shot, which was rejected by Davis, his block serving as the ultimate defensive dagger.
The Wildcats eased off with their:
— 51st consecutive homecourt victory (longest active streak in the nation);
— 50th consecutive win in Rupp (longest string in venue history);
— 20th straight win this season;
— 45th Southeastern Conference championship
— 165th victory as the AP’s number one team (including 11 this season, against one loss).
As I was watching the closing minutes of the game, a friend of mine called. He’s a guy who went to UK in the late 1940s and counted the late Ralph Beard and Alex Groza, two of the Fabulous Five, as personal friends. He has seen every one of UK’s seven national championship teams. He assured me the one he watched today is better than any of them.
Of course, there is still so much work to do. The Wildcats close out the home portion of their schedule on Thursday. It’ll be Senior Night when Georgia comes to town, to face a team that seems to be playing its best basketball at the absolute best time – showing what may be national championship form.
Anybody like Georgia’s chances?
Dick Gabriel is in his 23rd year with the UK Network and can be heard at 6 p.m. Monday through Friday on the Big Blue Insider, on 630 WLAP-AM and wlap.com.