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Vanderbilt 81, Kentucky 77: John Jenkins Weaves His Own Memorial Magic

When I first saw the Internet tape of John Jenkins playing basketball when he was still in high school, I thought to myself, "That kid can't be that good."  After all, the film one watches of athletes over the World Wide Web are most often interspersed with only highlights: One doesn't see the misses, the bonehead plays, the turnovers.  But, this time, the Web didn't lie.

Jenkins, as single-handedly as possible in a major college basketball game, beat the 'Cats all by himself on Saturday afternoon with an array of three-pointers, drives to the hole, and righteous free throws.  Shots off multiple screens, shots off the break, shots off the bounce, shots with a big blue hand in his face, even three-point shots when clearly being fouled on the follow-through.  It didn't really matter how Jenkins came to have the ball in his hands with a make on his mind, he was deadly true.

Thirty-two points on 17 shots taken.  That's the only stat that matters in this game.  Not the Wildcat turnovers in the final minutes, not the Terrence Jones bumbled alley-oop off a pretty pass from Brandon Knight, not the unmistakably bad fourth foul call on DeAndre Liggins, not the (highly effective) zone Kevin Stallings went to in the final minutes, not Darius Miller playing only 18 minutes, not the two Steve Tchiengang three-pointers in the first  half -- I'm sure the UK scouting report told the players the 6-9 Vandy big man makes 41.8% of this long-ball tries.  It is all background noise when compared to the domination Jenkins displayed as he slowly but surely eviscerated the 'Cats one shot at a time.

Want consistency in a shooter?  Jenkins was five of eight from the field in the first half, making three of five 'Cat killing threes, while scoring 14 points.  Heard around the Commonwealth at halftime, "This kid cannot keep this up, he has to cool off!"  Wrong.  Sadly, second half saw more of the same, and then some: six of nine field goals, three more trifectas (on five attempts), and three of three free throws for a total of 18 points.

It did not matter one iota which Wildcat face-guarded Jenkins in the half-court.  Be it Liggins, Doron Lamb, or Brandon Knight.  The man on fire simply ran through half-a-dozen picks, or stepped back and dared the defender to challenge the shot.  The result ... always the same, a dagger through the hearts of the 'Cats, and 'Cat fans everywhere.

And quite honestly, it's a shame ... because Kentucky, on this day, came to play.  The Wildcats, who in previous contests flinched from contact, on Saturday, invited the contact.  The Wildcats, who in previous contests were dominated in the paint, on Saturday, owned the blocks by a 34-22 scoring margin.  But, when the opponent has a player feelin' it to the extent Jenkins was feelin' it from the outside, the toughness displayed by the 'Cats is relegated to the junk pile.  Laid to waste by the cold-blooded shooting of the SEC's top scorer.

Wasted by Jenkins was a superb 25 point performance by UK's Terrence Jones.  All Jones did on this afternoon was make nine of 14 shots from the field, six of eight free throws, and grab nine rebounds, four of the offensive variety.  Jones also dished-out two dimes, and blocked three Commodore shots.  All afternoon Jones looked aggressive, played aggressive, and left it all on the floor.  

Wasted Part II: Kentucky's Brandon Knight put up a UK freshman record tenth 20 point game.  The frosh point guard made seven of 13 shots, four of seven threes, and handed out two assists (BK had four turnovers).  Knight hit big shot after big shot for the 'Cats all afternoon, but late in the game, as freshmen are wont to do, he contributed to a couple of key turnovers, leaving Kentucky gasping for air.

Wasted Part III: The much maligned big man, Josh Harrellson, grabbed 10 big rebounds, four offensive, to go with seven points, three assists and zero turnovers.  Harrellson battled and battled hard all day.

But, Wildcat fans, take heart.  For all the head-scratching and hand-wringing this youthful UK team has induced upon the Big Blue Nation in 2011, it took an "unconscious" performance by a legitimate big-time player to down the 'Cats on this day, in what might be the most intimidating environment in the SEC.  And Kentucky, finally, on the road, showed the heart and determination it takes to win when not in Rupp Arena.  If not for one player channeling the ghosts of great shooters past, 'Cat fans would be celebrating as I type. 

But, sometimes, and as difficult as it may be, one has to tip ones cap, and congratulate the victorious opponent with a job well done.  For on this day, John Jenkins had the type of game every college basketball player dreams about; A nearly flawless performance punctuated by his insistent, consistent 'Cat-de-clawing shooting display.

Jenkins, after the game, said it best:

"I told Coach (Stallings) this must be a dream or something because this can't be real.  Being from here (TN) you see a lot of great games against Kentucky, and just to be a part of that legacy now is just something special."

Very well stated by a player who obviously appreciates the magnitude of his incredible, Big Blue heartbreaking day.

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!