NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Kentucky basketball was whistled for 23 fouls and Vanderbilt shot 32 free throws on Tuesday night at Memorial Gymnasium, where the students were dying to rush the court on the Wildcats again. The Commodores hit eight 3-pointers, including one with 96 seconds left to pull within a point.
But sixth-ranked Kentucky had just enough to stay undefeated in SEC play, escaping this oddball arena with an 87-81 victory. There were things that annoyed coach John Calipari, sure, but he walked away pretty proud that a team starting four freshmen found a way.
“I’m really happy we won this game,” he said. “Like I told these guys: You gotta enjoy the wins. I’ve been doing this 30 years. Enjoy the wins. When we win a game, that’s not relief for me. It’s joy. I am happy, and it was a hard-fought game, which makes me even happier.”
Here’s everything else you need to know from Calipari’s postgame remarks:
- Freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox played just six first-half minutes, because of that foul-trouble problem that plagued Kentucky, but then delivered 16 points in the second half, including a clutch bucket with 1:17 to go. He had 22 for the game, plus 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal with just one turnover in 25 minutes. He hit 11 of 17 shots, including a flurry of silky-looking jump shots, which is a new development. “He’s really spending time in the gym right now,” Calipari said. “He’s really mastering his craft.”
- When Fox and fellow freshman Malik Monk – who ended up with 18 points and some huge late plays – were glued to the bench before the break, sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe ran the show and kept Kentucky in front. He finished with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists with just one turnover. He was 10 of 18 shooting.
“He has played well. He’s not the issue. He gets it and he knows,” Calipari said before explaining how it is that Briscoe gets to the basket even when defenders sag off him. “His first step and his ball quickness is as good as it gets. He’s fast – and how about how he guarded the ball? He has a will to win. All the stuff that he needed to work on (from last season), he has, from free-throw shooting to his three to his handle. His assist-to-turnover ratio is ridiculous. So proud of him.”
- While Briscoe and Fox said after the game that this one proved Kentucky can play well in the half-court and thrive even when they can’t get out and run on an opponent, Calipari qualified that: “The only issue was I had to make calls every time down for us to get the kind of shot we needed, and that means they’re not empowered yet,” he said. “When your team is empowered, they do it themselves. They know where to go with the ball, they know what kind of shot to take, who’s getting the ball. We’re just not empowered yet. But at some point this year, if this team is supposed to be what everybody thinks, then we better be empowered. It better be their team.”
- Here’s an odd stat for Calipari to love: Kentucky made just 1 of 9 threes against Vanderbilt. “I was ecstatic,” he said, “because when you’re 1 for 9 and you still win, it proves to your team you do not need to make threes to win. Many teams in the country, if they’re not making threes, they got no chance of winning. We’re not one of them.”
- He harped a lot on discipline and went back to his recent buzzword – trust – saying he has to do a better job of getting a young team schooled on the finer points, but Calipari clearly likes this group a lot. On an off night, Monk scored 18 points (six in the final 32 seconds). “Watching this team play, you have to have fun,” Calipari said. “Like, wow, this is fun watching them, the stuff they’re doing, as fast as they’re playing and some of the unbelievable plays that they make.”