LEXINGTON, Ky. — You could quibble with the shaky finish or the latest no-show from Nick Richards or the total inability to stop Texas A&M big man Tyler Davis. But ultimately, Kentucky basketball finding a way to beat the Aggies on Tuesday night, even by that single point, was really impressive.
The Wildcats didn’t have starting point guard Quade Green or reserve forward Tai Wynyard, who are both dealing with back issues, and still haven’t gotten back 5-star freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) or 4-star freshman guard Jemarl Baker (knee), meaning they played the very talented Aggies with just seven available scholarship players.
Richards did not attempt a single field goal and Kevin Knox got in early foul trouble and played just seven first-half minutes — so at times, they were essentially playing with five guys (and walk-on Brad Calipari). And they won.
On the latest episode of Wildcat Country, your daily Kentucky podcast presented by SEC Country, host Curtis Burch and beat writer Kyle Tucker broke down the 74-73 victory and what we learned about the 21st-ranked Cats (13-3, 3-1 SEC):
- The Jarred Vanderbilt updates are coming fast and furious now. First, we learned on John Calipari’s call-in show Monday that he has returned to practice and looked great that day. Then, after Tuesday’s game, Calipari said he looked great again in the shootaround and, essentially, that he’s physically ready to play — but he needs to get ready mentally. It seems like his college debut is getting close, with the coach saying he hopes his first game is at home so he can hear the roar of the crowd. Kentucky’s next home game is Jan. 20 against Florida (and ESPN’s College GameDay will be in town).
- PJ Washington was a beast again: 16 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a string of clutch plays in the final minutes. He has become a real offensive force in the paint and after the game Calipari said he asked Washington to take leadership of this team because “he’s the toughest guy.”
- The Cats’ other clear leader is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who played 39 minutes with Green out and delivered 16 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. Afterward, he said his legs felt like noodles and he couldn’t even remember actually coming out of the game for 53 seconds in the first half. (It was a mess without any actual point guard on the floor and Calipari wasted no time putting him back in.)
- Oh, and Calipari told reporters that we “don’t know s***.” Curtis and Kyle discuss.
Don’t miss any of our Cats coverage. Follow podcast host @CurtisBurch as well as @KyleTucker_SEC for hoops and football columns, @Joe_Mussatto for football team coverage, recruiting notes and UK-in-the-NBA rundowns.