In sports, there are always places that prove to be a difficult venue for certain teams to play in. And in most of those places, the final five minutes of the game prove to be crucial for either team to win.
The Kentucky Wildcats and the BBN know of such a place, and its located in Music City USA.
Once again, Memorial Gymnasium on the campus of Vanderbilt University did its thing. The vintage Nashville facility has been the site of many dogfights between the home standing Commodores and the Wildcats.
Saturday afternoon, the Cats and the Commodores renewed their rivalry and once again the game went down to the wire with UK prevailing 74-67 in a game much closer than the score indicates.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the star of the show once more for Kentucky ,racking up a game-high 22 points and six assists to go with four rebounds.
The Cats led most of the game, holding Vandy to 25% shooting to stake itself to a 36-27 advantage.
It was in the final five minutes, though, that the young Wildcats made enough plays to seal the win.
After the ‘Dores pulled ahead 56-55 with 7:57 to go in the game, their first lead since 6-4 in the first half, the lead changed hands until both teams were tied at 59 with five minutes to play. Kentucky answered with a 7-0 run to take the lead 66-59.
Then with UK up by 5 with 1:17 to play, freshman guard Hamidou Diallo hit a three from the corner to lift the Cats to an eight point advantage with under a minute to play.
Shai ➡️ Hami = . Clutch three pushed the lead to eight. Crucial. pic.twitter.com/JVbHegRpRe— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 14, 2018
Vanderbilt answered the Cat run to cut the lead 70-66. Then, in almost deja vu from the Texas A&M game, Vandy forced a UK turnover to get the ball back. On the next play, Vandy guard Riley LaChance was fouled on a three point attempt to give the ‘Dores the possibility of cutting the lead to one.
LaChance came into the game shooting 82% from the charity stripe. But in the pressure of the moment perhaps, he missed all three attempts. Freshman forward Kevin Knox grabbed the last miss and was fouled immediately.
Knox, however, made both of his free throw to push the lead to six at 72-66 to allow the Cats to escape with a victory. The freshman forward finished with 17 points and four boards.
The Cats move on to a Tuesday night contest with South Carolina in Columbia. The Gamecocks are coming off their best season ever, reaching the Final four.
Here is a recap of what Knox and Shai said about Saturday’s win, courtesy of UK Athletics:
On going inside in the clutch …
”Later on he called name and he wanted me to attack, so I got the ball whenever and I just got to the basket, knocked my free throws down and he’s been challenging me this whole season to be aggressive and get to the basket. I’m starting to get it now.”
On whether he expects all games to come down to the wire …
”Oh yeah, we’re getting into the middle of SEC play now, so every team is going to come at us with pretty much everything. So we gotta be able to show that we’re mature and be able to make winning plays down the stretch, get stops on defense and show people that we can actually win games in the SEC.”
On what it will take for Nick Richards to get going …
”Nick’s one of the hardest workers on the team. If you come to our practices, you see he’s always first one to the gym and the last one to leave. He’s just putting in the work. We just gotta get him to translate it to the game. I think all Cal really wants him to do is just rebound and defend and block shots and just run to the basket. He’s got one of the easiest jobs on the team. We just gotta get him to do it. I think one of his problems is he’s not really getting as many rebounds as Cal wants him to, so if he can just get 10 to 12 rebounds a game, he’d be fine. That’s all Cal really wants him to do, but he’s not getting it done. He’s going to keep working and he’ll get there soon.”
On UK’s play down the stretch in the last two games …
”I think it’s a testament to our age. It shows how young we are. With that being said, we won both the last games with the bad ending. It also gives us room to improve and we’ll watch film and we’ll fix it for the next games.”
On the lift Wenyen Gabriel gave them …
”Wenyen was big for us at the end and that’s what we all expect from him all game long. His energy he brings and he plays a hundred percent all the time. It’s what we really need to win and he did a good job tonight.”
On playing 39 minutes again …
”Yes, sir. It’s starting to take a toll. I’m going off adrenaline tonight. I think I’m OK tonight.”
On being able to drive at will and whether he’s surprised Vandy didn’t play zone …
”I actually believed they tried some zone a little bit in the second half. But yeah, I’m surprised they didn’t go earlier. I think they should have to stop me from getting in the lane a little bit, but they didn’t.”
On whether it feels like Jarred Vanderbilt is close to returning …
”Personally I feel like, yeah, he’s getting there. He’s making steps every day, but I think we’re all just ready for him to come back and we can’t wait. We know it’s going to be exciting playing with him. He’s going to bring a whole ‘nother element to the team and we just can’t wait.”
On his confidence …
”I’m playing with a lot of confidence, but it’s the work I’m putting in. And once you work hard, it’ll pay off and it’s showing.”
On being battle-tested …
”I think we’re really tested, especially in the last two games with them being so close down the stretch. I think that’s how it’s going to be all season. We’re going to continue to grow and we’re going to make strides and we’re going to be really good late in the season.”
On the moments when they lock down defensively …
”I think we all know that when we really channel and focus in on defense that we’re probably the best defensive team in the country, but I think it’s just us being engaged the whole 40 minutes. I think a lot of us are young and coming from high school you don’t have to be engaged the whole time because we’re so talented. We just get by. But at this level, you gotta stay the whole 40 and we’ll get there by the end of the season and we’ll be really special defensively.”
On seeing that opponents can make them pay when they have lapses …
”Uh, yeah. But like I said, we just gotta focus, stay together and really narrow in on defense and we’ll be good.”