The Kentucky Wildcats just had to make senior night nerve-racking.
The Cats had to fight their way back from a 19-point deficit (the largest comeback by any John Calipari-coached team ever) in order to pull out a 73-67 win over Vanderbilt.
But, as we’ve had to say several times this year, a win is a win. And the Cats are now the regular season SEC Champions (again), guaranteeing themselves the top seed in the SEC Tournament.
The night started off with a bang before the game even started when Derek Willis proposed to his girlfriend Keely Potts (and she said yes).
But once the game started, things didn’t go as well as Willis’ proposal. The Wildcats shot terribly to start the game, and Vanderbilt couldn’t miss. A late run helped negate the cold start, and the Cats went into the break down just six points.
Vanderbilt was just as hot for about half of the second half, shooting over 80% from the field at one point. The hot shooting made it extremely difficult for UK to come back despite 18 Vanderbilt turnovers.
But in the end, the perseverance of the Cats and some big shots from Willis and Malik Monk saved the day.
Here are four things to know from the tight win.
Kentucky started ice cold
And to make things worse, Vandy started red-hot. The Cats shot 31% from the field in the first half and 20% from deep, while Vandy shot 41% and 31%. Vanderbilt went on a 14-0 run at one point in the first half. Meanwhile, Kentucky went on a 15-3 run late and still trailed by six at the half, 30-24. Their 24 first half points were the fewest all year. The Cats also didn’t lead at any point during the first half.
Calipari ran a press for a bit
With Vanderbilt’s red-hot shooting and Kentucky’s offensive struggles early on, Calipari had to do something, so he pressed Vanderbilt during certain points of the game. It seemed to work; as mentioned earlier the Commodores had 18 turnovers, as the press defense forced them to play a lot faster than they wanted to.
Derek Willis had a senior night block party
Willis got Potts to say yes before the game, but he was telling Vanderbilt scorers no all night long. He recorded three blocks, which ties a season-high for him.
Derek Willis with another blocked shot. pic.twitter.com/sHzqhaMfKX— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 1, 2017
Big sequence. Willis rejection leads to the Malik Monk alley oop and-1. pic.twitter.com/TP7Bnj7ICO— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 1, 2017
Derek Willis with the big rejection. pic.twitter.com/40BtV1mSut— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 1, 2017
He usually isn’t the most commanding presence inside, but he used his length tonight and was an outstanding rim protector.
He didn’t just block shots though; the senior grabbed eight rebounds and recorded one assist, and his only made shot of the game gave Kentucky their very first lead late in the second half.
Derek Willis 3 pointer gives Kentucky it's first lead of the game. #BBN pic.twitter.com/6NeeeyqTNv— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 1, 2017
Look no further than Malik Monk to close games out
Monk has started getting into a pattern of “slow start, strong finish.” Better late than never, right? He did just that tonight, as he scored 27 points, with 20 of them coming in the second half.
His two three-point makes came in the second half as well. He has now scored 50 points in the last two second halves. It was pretty clear that he wanted the spotlight on him with the late shots he made tonight.
Malik Monk drains the 3 off the sideways jumpstop again. Incredible. #BBN pic.twitter.com/N5DjZiAFMj— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 1, 2017
Malik Monk LIVES for these moments. #BBN pic.twitter.com/yNZpbT8L07— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 1, 2017
This wasn’t the prettiest win, but it was a win nonetheless. Enjoy it!