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Kentucky survives Vanderbilt: 5 things to know and postgame banter

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What a roller-coaster of a game.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats came out on fire against Vanderbilt on Wednesday, maintaining a double digit lead for most of the game. But the second half was a different story, as the Wildcats struggled to score and barely hung on to win the game 83-78.

Davion Mintz led the Wildcats with 18 points, followed by 16 from Jacob Toppin, and Isaiah Jackson contributed 15 of his own, all of which came in the first half. The Wildcats seemed to do their best to give the game away.

But despite their late-game struggles throughout the season, they were able to close this one out on the road, largely thanks to 24/25 free-throw shooting to win back-to-back games for the first time since January 9th.

Scoring Streak

After finishing nine games below the 65 point mark, the Wildcats put together seven consecutive halves of almost 40 points per game. The first half at Vanderbilt put Kentucky’s offensive mojo on full display. While the second half may have sputtered a bit, they still scored 36 points, which was enough to close out the wind and give fans hope that the offense has truly taken a step forward.

Defensive Focus

Just four days after holding Sharife Cooper to six of 23 shooting, Kentucky put a game plan together against Vanderbilt to keep Scottie Pippen Jr. in check. He went scoreless in the first half. And while he did finish with 18 points for the game, many of his points came in transition off of Kentucky’s turnovers or at the free throw line.

As John Calipari is a defensive-minded coach, he has to love the fact that his team continues to lock down the other team’s best player. In college basketball, shutting down one guy for most teams can make a huge difference.

Flashes of Jackson

Before the season started, chatter came from the Kentucky staff that Isaiah Jackson was special in a way that was not expected. We have seen his talent off and on throughout the year. He leads the team in rebounds, he has put up more than seven blocks on more than one occasion, and his athleticism jumps off the television screen, even playing alongside other elite athletes.

Jackson had 18 points in Saturday’s in over Auburn, and he followed that with 15 points in the first half against Vanderbilt. He was held in check in the second half, but Jackson has shown that he is more than an athlete. He is a skilled player with an extremely high ceiling, and we have been seeing more and more of that lately.

Discipline

New game, same story. Kentucky put themselves in a position to run away with this one, but fell apart in the second half and allowed Vanderbilt right back in the ballgame. Given, this game was in Nashville, but a good teams knows how to close out a win against a bad team on the road. This team has yet to figure that out, and it has cost them throughout the season. Thankfully, they were able to hang on Wednesday to get the win.

Where is Dontaie Allen?

Allen had a few huge games once he was given some time on the court. He certainly calmed down a bit and started putting up more average numbers, but he is still shooting 41.7% from three for the season. I know that the offense has been improving across the board, but does that really warrant sitting a sharpshooter on the bench?

I know many in-state fans are clamoring for more Allen. And you could certainly make that argument when the team lost several in a row. But with back-to-back wins, especially in a season like this, it is tough to complain about the decisions that went into the victory.

Time to chat!