Seniors provide great moments for UK in comeback win over Vandy

Senior forward Derrick Willis proposed to his girlfriend Keely Potts prior to the game against the Vanderbilt Commodores on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won the game 73-67.

Anthony Crawford

The final score does not say enough about UK men’s basketball’s 73-67 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores on Senior Night. The slow start ended up only adding to the excitement that was capped off by UK making its largest comeback since John Calipari took over as head coach.

Before the ball was even tipped, it was guaranteed to be a special night on account of the festivities for the seniors.

UK has had some memorable Senior Night in recent years like last year with Alex Poythress or three years ago with fan-favorite Jarrod Polson. But this year was special, as all three seniors have become major contributors to the team this year and two of which are home-grown products from right here in the Commonwealth.

Big cheers filled Rupp Arena for all three players but none were louder following the recognition of forward Derek Willis. The loudest cheers came when Willis took a knee and proposed to his longtime girlfriend Keely Potts.

“We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. A lot more downs than ups, and she helped me through all that stuff,” Willis said. “So I can’t repay her for that, and that’s just part of why I wanted to give her this night and this special moment.”

Willis was deemed the biggest winner of the night after she said yes, but the rest of the UK players had to work much harder for their victory on the night. 

Both teams started the game shooting poorly, but where as UK couldn’t get any shots to fall, Vanderbilt eventually was able to hit some from deep. The outside shooting led to the Commodores pouring it on and they eventually took a 25-6 lead on UK with 8:03 left to play in the first half.

Poor starts are something that UK has made a habit of doing and this time Calipari sited a lack of fight as the main thing holding UK back. Luckily for UK, that is one area where senior Dominique Hawkins shines.

Hawkins could be seen throughout the game diving for loose balls and providing UK great on-ball pressure and that in turn helped UK in ending the first half on an 18-5 run.

UK went into the locker room down 30-24, but the Commodores didn’t make the comeback any easier in the second half.

In an effort to speed up the Vanderbilt offense, the Cats turned to a press to help get back into the game. But the Commodores continued to have a response to everything UK threw at them. 

Two second-half blocks from Willis were key for UK during this stretch of trying to catch up. The first led to an alley-oop and-one for Malik Monk on the other end and the second prevented Vanderbilt from capitalizing on an offensive rebound.

Willis finished with three total blocks along with eight rebounds, as he showed similar fight as Hawkins in affecting the game despite having an off game shooting the ball. That was until he hit one of the bigger shots of the game — a three at the 4:47 minute mark to give UK it’s first lead of the game.

UK lost the lead just once after that shot from Willis, but some timely shot-making from Monk helped seal the game for UK and ensured a victory in the seniors’ last game in Rupp Arena. 

The shot from Willis were his only points of the night. Hawkins finished with two points, two rebounds, one assist and one steal. Mychal Mulder, UK’s third senior, provided a spark in the first half hitting a three and throwing down an emphatic baseline jam.