Saturday in Morgantown, Kentucky secured its first signature win of the season, rallying from 17 points down to beat No. 7 West Virginia 83-76.
On Sunday, safely back in Lexington and back in the AP poll at No. 21, coach John Calipari sounded a warning with Vanderbilt coming to Rupp Arena on Tuesday night.
“Told them, ‘You guys, you can’t get arrogant about this,’ ” Calipari said. “You guys fought. You played with unbelievable spirit in the second half and you beat a really good team on the road. Now you’ve got to build on it.”
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The problem is that Kentucky’s top six leading scorers are all freshmen.
“You talk about it, but we don’t know until the game,” Calipari said. “You throw the ball up and we see if they understand that’s how you have to attempt to play every game. That kind of fight.”
On top of that Kentucky (16-5, 5-3) is facing a purported weaker foe in Vanderbilt (8-13, 2-6). But the Commodores upset TCU 81-78 in the same SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday and nearly knocked off Kentucky in the first meeting, an 74-67 loss on Jan. 13.
“The TCU game from tip to the finish they just, TCU couldn’t guard them,” Calipari said. “Ready for this? TCU shot 60 percent, outrebounded them by 10 and lost the game. They made 11 3s.”
“Our offensive execution was really good,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. “We got the shots that we wanted. We moved the ball really well.”
Vanderbilt has now won two of its last three since a four-game losing streak.
“We’re trying to get better, trying to build a program, trying to be the best we can be and win games this year,” Drew said.
Two things have changed since the two teams met in January. Vandy senior guard Matthew Fisher-Davis is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Kentucky now has freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt in the lineup. He missed the first 17 games to start the year.
Vanderbilt is struggling to find his way offensively, but did have 11 rebounds in 11 minutes in the win at West Virginia.
“You can see he’s questioning his ability to make baskets right now,” Calipari said. “But he just hasn’t played. He only had like one or two practices and now it’s just a dog fight for him. But 11 rebounds? He’s got a quick twitch. He’s quick to balls. Mind moves great. He sees things before where the ball goes and goes and gets there.”
Kentucky is led by freshman forward Kevin Knox at 15.5 points per game. He is coming off a career-best 34 points in the West Virginia win. Next comes freshman guard Hamidou Diallo at 12.7 points; freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 11.8; and freshman forward PJ Washington, 10.8.
Vanderbilt is led in scoring by senior forward Jeff Roberson at 15.6 points. Next comes senior guard Riley LaChance at 12.7. He has scored 26, 25 and 24 points in Vandy’s last three games. Freshman guard Saben Lee checks in at 10.5.
“It’s a really tough place to play, everybody knows that,” Drew said Monday of famed Rupp Arena. “But we led last year for 35 straight minutes before we lost it at the end so at least the guys have confidence and know they can play well in there.”