Kentucky completes season sweep of Vanderbilt

The Wildcats overcame nearly blowing a double-digit lead to hold on to defeat Vanderbilt 77-70

LEXINGTON, Ky. (UK Athletics) – Davion Mintz scored 21 points off the bench, hitting a 3-pointer during a pivotal 11-2 run, and No. 5 Kentucky overcame nearly blowing a double-digit lead to survive Vanderbilt 77-70 on Wednesday night for its third consecutive victory.

The Wildcats (18-4, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) twice led by 10 in the second half, but the Commodores eventually closed to 56-53 with 9:28 remaining. Keion Brooks Jr. answered with a jumper, Lance Ware made a free throw and Mintz took Sahvir Wheeler’s baseline pass to make a wide-open 3 from the right corner for a 62-53 advantage with 7:23 remaining.

Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe (17 rebounds, 11 points) followed Scotty Pippen Jr.’s basket with three free throws before TyTy Washington Jr.’s jumper off made it 69-57. Mintz added two free throws as Kentucky earned its 11th consecutive series victory over the Commodores.

Pippen had 33 points for his second 30-point outing this season against Kentucky, making 11 of 23 from the field. Jordan Wright had 14 points for the Commodores (11-10, 3-6), who sought their first win over Kentucky since 2016. Vanderbilt was coming off a season sweep of Georgia.

Mintz made 4 of 7 from deep and 6 of 11 overall. Brooks followed up his career-high 27 points at then-No. 5 Kansas by making 7 of 15 from the field and 6 of 8 free throws.

The second half was tense and chippy, with Kentucky’s Tshiebwe twice whistled for flagrant-1 fouls and Vandy’s Jamaine Mann called for one. Wildcats coach John Calipari drew a technical foul in the first half before Commodores counterpart Jerry Stackhouse picked up one after halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Vanderbilt wasn’t done despite digging a halftime hole with 11 turnovers. They got out of their own way and twice rallied to within a possession after halftime but couldn’t finish.

Kentucky faced more resistance from Vandy than at Kansas and had to work harder for looks. The Wildcats shot just 28% in the second half as a result, but got a huge basket with Mintz’s 3 off a beautiful feed from Wheeler.

To view the box score, click here.

UP NEXT

Vanderbilt: Hosts No. 25 LSU on Saturday.

Kentucky: At Alabama on Saturday.

Here are postgame quotes compiled by UK Athletics:

Q. Thoughts on Keion [Brooks] becoming a steady scorer?
COACH CALIPARI: I told Keion at halftime, ‘You’ve got no rebounds.’ What happened to that guy I saw? I told him that if you get five in the second half we’ll win. Good news? He got four. He went out and got rebounds. We got outrebounded today.

Again, thinking about the wrong stuff, but it was a really physical game. You were getting levelled.

Again, we did some good stuff offensively in the first half. And then we missed a bunch of some wide-open stuff, which is fine. You’re not going to make every shot. But I thought we fought on defense. You look at the numbers you would say, wow. But we win the game, we move on. Next game.

By the way, Davion [Mintz] played unbelievable today. Really, really good. And you know who was happy for him? TyTy [Washington]. Hugged him. That’s what this team has been.

Q. Wanted to ask about the technical foul you got on Oscar [Tshiebwe]. If I saw it right, you didn’t think Oscar fouled trying to offensive rebound. How chaotic was this game to try to manage?
COACH CALIPARI: They’re not allowed to dislodge. In other words, if I have a position, they cannot push me, like push back. And when I say ‘push back,’ I’m not saying an inch, I’m saying two feet. You can’t screen sideways. You can’t. You turn sideways and knock a guy, whack him – you can’t.

There were things that went on, and I’m trying to protect my players. I didn’t want anybody to get hurt. You’re coaching the game and saying, hey, but again, enough stuff that was done in the game that. Like I told them after, ‘Guys, if I watch that tape and I’m an opposing coach, I say, ‘Let’s just try to beat the crap out of a couple of these guys, they’ll go away.”

Can’t accept that. You’ve got to beat them in two spots. You’ve got to be the first to hit. You’ve got to be quick coming off screens. You can’t be late so the guy can move, physically move a foot, and knock you down. You can’t. You’ve got to be body-to-body. That becomes so obvious a foul they’ve got to call it.

Q. You said [Davion] Mintz played unbelievable.
COACH CALIPARI: I put him in early because Sahvir [Wheeler] had two fouls. How about that rebound on that free throw? That was a big play. I’m trying to get other guys to do that, what he just did, and it’s just too rough. I try to move, but if the guy hits me, I stop and I run back.

He doesn’t. He just is relentless. And he also runs the floor. He and Kellan [Grady] spread the court out. Later in the game, I just went to Oscar and our point guard and spread the court and just played that way. The reason I did it was because I didn’t want anybody to get hurt. It was so physical.

So, now it’s so obvious that you’re whacking somebody, they’ve got to call it.

Q. You mentioned the physicality of this one. You and Jerry [Stackhouse] both seemed to be frustrated.
COACH CALIPARI: No, no, what happened, I’m looking around the country, and many coaches are just doing what they do in the NBA, which I did. I acknowledged him.

But I got worried after the last game. Did you see what happened to one of the Kansas players after the last game? What? What happened? The guy has COVID. He has COVID. Basically he played with COVID.

And now I’m saying, I’m not sure we should shake hands. Give us another two weeks. The stuff we’re doing with you, Zooming, it’s perfect. I don’t need to be in everybody’s company.

It’s the same thing with, I think, South Carolina and Mississippi State. I saw those two coaches – great guys, both of them – they gave the peace sign and left. They told the team that we don’t need that right now. But no, that was nothing.

Q. Curious if you think a rock fight like tonight might have been better for you in the long run. You’ll see those in March this year. Are you learning how to play physical?
COACH CALIPARI: I mean, I’m fine. They did good stuff. They run good stuff. They create good shots. I’m glad we’re done playing them. They got the big kid now. They’ve got another guy with size who can play.

So, we’re done. We’re done. If we see them again, it will be in the tournament, and I hope we don’t see them in the tournament.

Q. Talking about Keion [Brooks]’s lack of rebounding the first half, was it still not [inaudible] seeing him making shots the second straight game for you?
COACH CALIPARI: Wow, and they were all big. He made three jumpers that were huge, and the one as the clock expired. The dunk, I told him, ‘Look, you wanted to make it something hard instead of making an easy play because you might miss it.’ It’s all that mentality that we’ve just got to keep on holding him accountable.

But I’m saying this: He has been so much better. Again, all I want him to do is when I look at that rebounding chart, his attempts are in the mid-80s. If he does, he’s going to get eight or nine rebounds. He has 17, 18 sprints that are As and three or four that are Bs, because now he’s going to be ahead of the action. He’s going to get a couple of dunks, a couple of 3s or 15-foot corner shots. And he makes those.

Then that’s where he builds his confidence. If you’re getting knocked around, it’s hard to be confident. It really is. And, like I said, I’m really proud of him. Like I said prior to the game, I don’t want you to have the weight of the world on you again. You just play.

You don’t have to make every shot. You’re going to miss some. Just play. Get the weight of the world – get it off you. You just be a great player and enjoy this team. And he is. He has a smile on his face.

Q. You saw a little bit of that defensive rebounding. Anything else that you saw that suggested that?
COACH CALIPARI: I’ve got to watch the tape. I’ll watch the tape. TyTy [Washington] kind of coming up limping early in the game got me, like, you’ve got to be kidding me. He came back and played. I’ve got to check on that. I’ve not seen him to ask him that. We had a short three-minute postgame meeting.

But I will watch the tape. We’re going to watch the tape probably around noon tomorrow because of this ice storm. We were thinking about leaving tomorrow if we could get out, but we’re not going to be able to. We’re hoping that the ice will subside and we can get out on Friday, but we may not be able to get out on Friday.

We’re just going to follow the weather, but we’re not going to put ourselves in any kind of tough position traveling-wise.

Q. Scotty Pippen, both times, has put up a lot of points. What makes him so effective?
COACH CALIPARI: He’s good with the ball. He’s crafty. He’s good at pick-and-rolls, and he plays great against us. Always has. Every game I’ve coached against him the kid has probably averaged 30 against us. He wished he played us five times a year.

Q. How much is going against Oscar [Tshiebwe] every day in practice helping Lance [Ware] with what he’s doing?
COACH CALIPARI: Let me tell you what’s helping Lance. He’s now become one of the guys in the gym living in the gym. He’s one of those guys now. He’s building his own confidence.

It’s not how much I play him. When he gets minutes, he’s confident he’s going to play well. He’s out there playing well: Rebounding, he fights, he talks, he’s smart. He’s one of the smartest basketball players we have.

When you have a big guy that’s that way and you can run some things through him, in other words, now he can be a dribble hand-off guy. He could be a re-screener because he’s smart. And he can see it.

He’s complimentary. He compliments Oscar, how Oscar plays when he needs to go in. But I put him in and he only had three fouls. My staff said we had four. It was, I think, he only has three, but he had three when I sat him down. He did not have four. He had three. Got his fourth later. So, we had a little screw-up that we’ve got to square away because he can’t have that in these games.

Q. Kind of looked like Oscar [Tshiebwe] got frustrated a time or two during the game?
COACH CALIPARI: I think they egged him on. Now what do you think the other coaches that are watching this game are going to say? Don’t let him move. In other words, if he tries to cut, chest him, bump him – do stuff to aggravate him.

He’s going to have to be smart because now that’s what they’ll do, because you can’t stop his progress from running unless you do. And they let you do it. You push, what do they say? Well, you fouled. Like I said, it was a physical game, but it is what it is.

Q. I want to follow up on the roughing up Oscar [Tshiebwe]. Do you now start doing that in practice, rough him up so he gets used to it?
COACH CALIPARI: No. Tomorrow’s practice will be film and script. Friday’s practice, if we’re going to be able to get out, will be a normal day before a game practice. You can’t go crazy or someone will get hurt.

We now get ready for a really good Alabama team. You’re on the road, and I imagine it will be packed, like every game we play. Good news is we’ve walked into arenas like that. So, we’ll see. It’s going to be a hard game for us.
UK Student-Athletes

#12 Keion Brooks Jr., Jr., Forward

On how rough/physical this game was …
“It was a pretty physical game. You could tell by just watching. I don’t know how many flagrants were called, but it was just one of those games where it was physical. We got pushed around a little bit in some areas and in some spots. We have to look at the film because we don’t want other teams to come in and think they can just push us around.”

On what the challenges are when people have high expectations of the team …
“We’ve been playing well lately. We’ve got some guys that have been stepping up and playing well individually. The glory is going to come when you start winning and playing well. But you have to remember that we have a long way to go. You have a long way to go as a player, and none of us are finished products. You’ve got to stay focused on getting better every day, sticking through good days together, and not feeding into all the glitz and glamour and the glory that comes with playing well because nobody’s going to talk about it when you’re not playing well. You have to remember that.”

On if he thinks other teams are going to try to get physical with them after tonight’s game and if he thinks Oscar [Tshiebwe] got a little frustrated by it …
“I don’t know what other teams are going to do. That’s for them to find out and us to prepare for. Oscar gets beat up all the time just because of how big and strong he is. I know it’s probably tough on him sometimes, just because he feels like he’s getting whacked on, but because of how big he is, he’s expected to play through it sometimes. I just tried to tell him to keep his head up. That’s the only way that you can stop him is having him out of the game due to fouls or other situations. Oscar is going to figure that out. He’s going to do a better job of keeping his head in the future.”

#10, Davion Mintz, Sr., Guard

On defending players who have 20-point games …
“There’s so many guys on this team capable of getting 20 points. I can count five more guys on our team outside of that that can do it as well. Like I said, this team is very talented and what goes into that is that unselfishness. I didn’t know how much I had at the time but after the game, Sahvir [Wheeler] came up to me and said, ‘Bro, I kept passing it to you so you could get fouled and get the 20 ball.’ I was like, I appreciate that. That’s love. That’s the type of team we have.”

On challenges after everyone has talked well about the team after Kansas …
“When you’re a top team like that and you’re publicized everywhere, it’s easy to get caught into it. Coach wants us to stay even keel and he mentions that every day. For him, he knows how it feels to be successful for a very long time, so when he speaks, we listen to stuff like that. You have to stay humble. We know that we’re special. We understand that, but still know that everyone wants that top spot. So, when you have it, you have to secure it. That’s what we’re trying to do and that’s the attitude we have to have moving forward. Be confident and understand that you have to be humble.”

On what got his momentum going …
“Honestly, it was right after the Kansas game. I was walking out of the locker room and there was a little girl. She was probably a young teenager. She was crying her eyes out as she was walking up to me. I asked, ‘What’s going on?’ She was like, ‘I’m just so excited to meet you. This is my first time meeting my favorite player. I’ve been waiting a year.’ And I had zero points. I didn’t really even play a full half of a game. My heart was kind of heavy because I knew I had been struggling for a while. Just to realize God made me somebody that can make someone else feel special about themselves, that just sent me over the top. My parents saw and my cousin who was there also saw. She couldn’t even keep herself together. That just meant so much to me that it meant so much to her. That right there is what motivates me. People could feel so special about themselves, and it made me work harder in the gym. So that’s what turned out for today. So, thank her, if she’s listening right now.”

Vanderbilt Head Coach – Jerry Stackhouse

On having Quentin Millora-Brown and Liam Robbins back…
“I thought those guys battled. I thought our whole team battled. Obviously, he had a handful dealing with Tshiebwe and what he brings, he’s a physical presence. I thought Q [Quentin] battled him, stuck his head in there, literally, got a couple of flagrant fouls on him. I thought our guys competed. Liam, obviously, he’s getting his feet under him, but he was, a lot of emotions in his first game back, and coming back in this type of environment, but I give credit to him. He wanted to get in, he wanted to get back, felt like he was ready to contribute a few minutes. We were really excited to have him, and we know that we will continue to get better as he continues to get a better feel with what we want to get accomplished on both ends of the floor.”

On how the team played to lead in multiple statistical categories… 
“I just think we still left some money on the table at the free throw line. You’re not going to shoot 100%, but again, that’s the difference in the game when you look at the final score. If we found a way to be perfect, we really could give ourselves a “chance” to win this game. Really proud of our guys, against a team like that, outrebounding them, points in the paint, winning some of those categories is really good for us moving forward. I think it’s a confidence booster for our guys, to let them know that we can play with anybody when we share the ball and we defend the way that we’re capable of, we can come in, and not just win, we can do some really good things. A lot of positives, not the main positive that we want, but there’s a lot of good takeaways from tonight.”

On the chippy nature of the game and how his team responded to it…
“Just a rival game. We’ve been on the wrong end of that rivalry for a while, but I think we’re closing the gap, and I just think you’re going to have that “chippiness” on both sides. I thought our guys were battling hard, just wanted to make sure we gave ourselves a fair chance to win the game. We had a stretch in there that we were playing hard, and I didn’t feel like our guys were getting the benefit of the doubt, so I’m going to always ride for my guys and make sure that they know I’m supporting them in their effort. At the end of the day, nothing more than just a spirited college basketball game, came out on the wrong side of it, but it was an exciting game on both sides.”

On what his team did that slowed them down…
“I thought we had some opportunities in the pocket. We got too deep a few times and had a few turnovers which I think was the difference in the game. In the first half, we had 11 turnovers, 10 points, and we were down 10.”

On if he had a different plan for Oscar Tshiebwe for this game than last…
“Our focus is shutting down Kentucky. We know that he’s a huge part of that and that he’s going to give them some points. I felt like he camped out in the paint an awful lot, maybe even more so than should be allowed. He had a pretty good game for them, no more important than Kellan Grady. We were aware of him and what TyTy Washington did to us last game. We knew what (Davion) Mintz was capable of even though he’s been struggling, and (Keion) Brooks was good tonight as well. That kid’s a pro. They have a roster full of guys to be concerned about.”

Vanderbilt Student-Athletes

#2, Scotty Pippen Jr., Junior, Guard

On how he thought the team played…
I mean there a top five team in the country. I thought we came out and we were right there with them. I feel a little banged up and all but we competed and fought. I’m so proud of my guys today and a couple more things we need to clean up and I think we’ll be there next time.”

On a different approach on stopping (Oscar Tshiebwe)…
“We changed our rotations up a bit and try to limit him spinning baseline. I think it helped us that he had a lot of foul calls and it kind of kept us in a rhythm.”

On the focus of rebounding and how he thinks they did…
“Yeah, rebounding been a focus for us every game. In the last couple games even the games before that, we lost a close game because of rebounding bad offensive and defensive rebounding so that’s been a much emphasis for us in practice. In most games when you out rebound a team like you should win so it’s good for us to out rebound them.”

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