No. 1 Kentucky stays unbeaten after nervous time vs. Vanderbilt
With Kentucky’s slim lead threatened by a Vanderbilt squad that wouldn’t go away, Aaron Harrison coolly stepped up to drain the clutch 3-pointer that has become a familiar sight for the top-ranked Wildcats.
Twin brother Andrew Harrison provided a little more cushion with a layup a minute later before Aaron sealed Tuesday night’s hard-fought 65-57 victory with two free throws that kept the Wildcats perfect on a night that featured plenty of blemishes.
All of those flaws were forgotten thanks to the Harrisons’ 11 combined points down the stretch, with nine coming from Aaron.
"He’s as good as any player in the country the way he played in the second half," Kentucky coach John Calipari said of his sophomore guard, whom he hugged tight after the tense contest.
Aaron Harrison, whose clutch 3s earned Kentucky three straight NCAA tournament wins last spring, finished with 14 points, all in the second half. Andrew Harrison added five points as Kentucky (18-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) survived its third tight game in five league contests.
"I just wanted to do everything I could to help the team win," said Aaron Harrison, who made 4 of 7 from the field including two 3s. "I knew I had to get my energy together and I did in the second half, which helped me play better."
Kentucky needed that resolve to put away Vanderbilt (11-7, 1-4).
The Wildcats didn’t lead by double digits until early in the second half, and that 45-33 advantage lasted briefly as the Commodores began answering from the perimeter to stay within reach.
Five combined 3-pointers by Riley LaChance (16 points) and Matthew Fisher-Davis (13) helped Vanderbilt pull within 58-54 with 2:36 left. The Commodores never got closer as the Harrisons closed it out for the Wildcats.
Damian Jones had 11 points and seven rebounds for Vanderbilt, which shot 42 percent in losing its fourth straight and third in a row by a close margin. Fisher-Davis missed a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left and Wade Baldwin IV missed another jumper seconds later that Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein rebounded to seal the game.
"I thought we did some good things," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "We just didn’t do quite enough. There’s really no consolation in doing some good things and can’t do enough to win. I thought we rebounded for the most part fairly effectively."
Dakari Johnson added 10 points for the Wildcats, who shot 44 percent. Cauley-Stein had 10 of Kentucky’s 33 rebounds while Karl-Anthony Towns blocked seven shots.
Kentucky definitely needed every contribution in game that included 11 missed free throws on 32 attempts.
Though the Wildcats led throughout, they were obviously less dominant than in back-to-back routs of Missouri and Alabama. Vanderbilt kept that from happening thanks to a steely resolve and 7-of-18 shooting from 3-point range.
Stallings made sure to keep his young players’ spirits up despite the slump, mainly to keep the Wildcats from seizing on an opportunity and rolling to another rout. That was a tall task, considering the Commodores were 22-point underdogs, but they had chances.
"I don’t think we were scared to come in here and play," LaChance said of playing in Rupp Arena. "We came in here fired up and that’s just how we have to go into every game."
LONG TERM FROM LONG-RANGE
Both schools extended lengthy streaks of games with at least one 3-pointer. Kentucky’s run is now 918 contests after it made four from behind the arc. Vanderbilt sank seven to extend its run to 914.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores fell to 8-18 against top-ranked teams and 5-13 versus Kentucky as the No. 1 squad. Vandy’s last meeting against the Wildcats as No. 1 was a 71-64 win in the 2012 SEC tournament championship.
Kentucky: Already assured of having the best record among Wildcats coaches in their first 100 home games no matter what, Calipari improved to 96-4 with the tense victory.