Cats grind out win at Vanderbilt

Malik Monk dunks the ball against Vanderbilt on Jan. 10, 2017

Chris Angolia

In what is always an interesting game in an interesting venue at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium, Tuesday night’s foul-fest between No. 6 UK men’s basketball and the Vanderbilt Commodores proved to be no different as the Cats pulled out a hard-earned 87-81 victory.

The victory comes in the team’s first game post-Camp Cal and despite the ugly nature of the game, a road win in a hostile environment is good to see for any team, especially one with the youth and inexperience of this one. Both teams combined to foul each other 43 times which proved to weigh down the contest right from the start.

After Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox each picked up two fouls within the first four minutes of the game, it was looking as if the Cats were going to be shorthanded in their backcourt for the entirety of the game. Fortunately for UK, the officials decided to leave Monk and Fox alone and turn their attention to everyone else on the court, calling a total of 23 fouls in the first half. And despite being plagued with foul issues in the first half, the Cats were able to take a 45-41 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Unfortunately for the fans and everyone watching, the whistle blowing carried over into the second half and aided the ‘Dores in keeping the game close and providing a scare. But per usual, the backcourt trio of Monk, Fox and Isaiah Briscoe just did not allow the Cats to fall behind down the stretch.

Combining for a total of 63 points, the backcourt showed yet again why it is considered as the best backcourt in the country. Briscoe and Fox especially, would not allow the team to lose.

When Fox and Monk were sent to the bench with foul trouble in the first half, it was Briscoe who stepped up with 10 first-half points, but it was his 13 second-half points and crucial passing down the stretch that proved to be a big reason that the Cats prevailed. And as for Fox, who has struggled shooting the ball recently, he found a groove in the second half for 16 of his 22 points on 8-12 shooting.

The bigger story to pull from Fox’s night however has to be the fact that over the last two games he has shot the ball much better after struggling mightily from mid range and out. To see Fox shoot the ball at a high percentage consistently is something that could take his game to the next level especially with his ability to get to the rim at will.

As seen Tuesday night, Fox and Briscoe both clearly have that will to win, and despite the team’s lack of discipline or post presence at times, it has become clear that the backcourt will not allow this team to lose without having a say on how things play out as seen Tuesday night.