Kentucky defeats Vanderbilt 77-74, now 2-0 in SEC play


Kentucky Wildcats guard Davion Mintz (10) lays the ball up during the University of Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt men’s basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 77-74. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Eric Decker

A continually materializing theme throughout Kentucky’s dreadful start is if the Cats want to win, it’s the “veterans” on the team, not the touted youngsters, who will have to carry the load. Tonight, those guys delivered.

On the backs of Davion Mintz and Olivier Sarr, Kentucky was able to win consecutive games for the first time this season, defeating Vanderbilt 77-74 in Rupp Arena.

Sarr, the seven-foot Frenchman, was a menace in the paint, tallying 24 points and seven rebounds while shooting 14-15 from the free throw line. The team as a whole went 26-32 combined at the charity stripe. He was the focal point of the Kentucky offense all night long, and made a big effort to work for the rock.

“At practice, Coach (Calipari) put a big emphasis on the bigs… he just wants us to get open and catch the ball,” Sarr said postgame. “It’s on us too, not just the passer, to make sure we get the ball.”

There have been a few games this year where Sarr hasn’t been very assertive, drastically minimizing his impact on his own accord. He knows that can’t be the case if the team wants to have any chance at turning things around.

“I just need to focus on fighting, competing and getting lost in the fight and competing with the team,” he said. “I’m just playing my game out there, no pressure and just being locked in and having fun at the same time.”

Dontaie Allen followed up the 23-point win-sparking display in Starkville with a solid outing, ranking second on the team with 14 points (4-10 FG, 2-5 3P). Fan belief that he’s the hometown savior of this year remains strong, but one thing is for sure: he’s demonstrated the potential to be a valuable piece for 2021 and beyond even with his defensive struggles.

“Dontaie broke down a ton today defensively. He made baskets and free throws when we needed it, but he may have given up as many as he scored.” Coach Cal said. “I told him, I said, look, if that’s the case and it’s even-steven, I’m probably good with you… he deserves to be out on that court [with] what he does to the defense.”

B.J. Boston has the worst shooting percentage on the team for guys who play regularly (36%), yet still leads the team in minutes, averaging over 31 per game. This has led to frustration across the fanbase, as Cal has given him a long leash to work through things. Tonight was another discouraging performance for the top-ten recruit (six points – 3-9 shooting – one rebound, one assist in 27 minutes), but the eleven-year coach is still maintaining confidence in the five star.

“I don’t give up on any player, and I believe in B.J.” Calipari had to say after Boston’s subpar effort. “I expected him to have a big game today because he’s been so good in practice, so good in individuals, all the stuff… he didn’t come out because of his offense; he came out because defensively they were going right at him.”

While the Cats two straight W’s bring some optimism, those wins have come against two of the bottom three projected schools in the preseason media polls. No matter how good Mississippi State (12th) and Vanderbilt (14th) were expected to be, Mintz knows the team isn’t in a position to take any victory lightly.

“A win is a win in my mind… especially with what we’ve been through this year,” the graduate transfer said. “I don’t care if it’s against a middle school team. A win is a win.”

Kentucky looks to continue its winning streak and uphold its undefeated conference record this Saturday in Gainesville, as they take on the Florida Gators. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. on ESPN.