Cats complete trifecta over Vandy in 77-71 win in SEC Tournament


Kentucky Wildcats guard TyTy Washington Jr. (3) shoots the ball during the UK vs. Vanderbilt SEC Tournament quarterfinals mens basketball game on Friday, March 11, 2022, at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. UK won 77-71. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

TAMPA, Fla.— They say its hard to beat the same team three times in one season. 

They weren’t lying. 

Kentucky’s 77-71 victory over Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament was anything but easy, as the Commodores fought tooth and nail for 40 minutes inside Amalie Arena. 

“Hats off to Vandy, third game in three nights and they never stopped. They played to the horn, and that’s amazing,” UK coach John Calipari said after the win.

After roughhousing Georgia in round one, then squeaking by Alabama on Thursday, Calipari felt like Vanderbilt was going to be sucking air at some point on Friday night. He was wrong. 

“We thought we could get into their legs at some point in the second half and it didn’t happen,” he said.

Spearheaded by 27 points from Jordan Wright, Vanderbilt went blow for blow, taking Kentucky’s best punch, then coming back with an uppercut of its own. 

The Commodores just couldn’t get over the hump and slay Goliath, partly due to Scotty Pippen Jr’s off-night shooting the ball. 

The star guard scored just 10 points on 2-17 shooting, a complete flip on his earlier dominance of the Wildcats this season. 

In his two previous performances against UK, Pippen dropped 32 and 33 points against the Cats. He credited his poor shooting on Friday to fatigue: 

“I got a lot of open looks I usually knock down every game, but I couldn’t even hit the rim today. It’s a weird feeling, but I think it’s more about having fatigue legs and stuff like that,” he said.

For Wright, however, the goal was as big as a hula hoop. 

“I found a really good rhythm tonight. Got some good looks. My teammates found me when when I was open, I made some shots. So definitely felt good,” he said. 

UK was led by TyTy Washington Jr, who poured in 25 points on 8-17 shooting.

The jolt of scoring was a welcomed sight for the Kentucky faithful, as Washington had struggled to get in a groove following his return from injury. 

“Everybody on the team knows what I can do and what I can bring,” Washington said. “I just have my teammates just pushing me and giving me confidence. That’s gonna be the result.” 

His confidence was key to pushing Kentucky across the finish line on Friday, something Calipari has come to expect from the freshman. 

“I know how good [Washington] is,” he said. “His ability to make shots and make free throws and make floaters, he’s skilled. The defense that he can play, because he’s got some physical toughness and size, makes him where he’s on both sides of the ball.”

As Washington excelled, Oscar Tshiebwe did his usual, super-human-like business. 

He hauled in 12 points and 14 rebounds on Friday, keeping his average over 15 boards a game. 

Tshiebwe hasn’t been outrebounded by an opposing player all season, and is on pace to become the first player to average 15 rebounds or more in 40 seasons. 

Big time bench duo Davion Mintz and Jacob Toppin provided a spark, each tallying 10 points. 

Following a less than A+ performance, Calipari turned his attention to the next task at hand, a rubber match in the semifinals against Tennessee. 

“You guys know the respect I have for Rick Barnes. I mean, he’s a friend. Dear friend. I hate to play against friends,” he said. “But we’re both going to have our teams as ready as we can with a quick turn. I mean, we’re playing tomorrow at three. I mean, our kids are going to get the bed by midnight.”

After each team drubbed one another in its home gyms, round three will take place on a neutral court, under the bright lights of Amalie Arena. 

Tip-off between the Wildcats and Volunteers is set for approximately 3 p.m. EST on Saturday, March 12, with a date to the SEC Championship on the line.