Cats hold off Vandy, 74-70


Sophomore guard, Ryan Harrow goes for the basket during the first half of the men’s basketball game against Vanderbilt on Wednesday February 20th, 2013. Photo by Kirsten Holliday

By David Schuh | @DSchuhKernel

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Tuesday night, leading up to his team’s game against Vanderbilt, UK head coach John Calipari did something unorthodox.

He saw a group of young men with a burden on their shoulders, expecting to come together as a team after losing their star teammate to a season-ending injury.

So, what did he do? He and his staff challenged their players to a game of dodgeball.

“You’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing,” Calipari said. “These guys are with the weight of the world on their shoulders.”

His experiment seemed to work, as the Cats used a hot shooting start and some late defensive stops to get back on track Wednesday night, beating Vanderbilt, 74-70.

“They were very coachable tonight,” Calipari said with a smile, referencing his comment after the Tennessee loss that indicated otherwise. “They played with a lot of confidence today, and that’s all we’re talking about.”

UK came out playing with a lot of energy. They started 12-of-17 from the field, using a 13-0 run to take a 23-9 lead midway through the first half.

However, the Cats struggled to defend the majority of the night. Vanderbilt’s hot shooting kept them within reach, trailing by 12 at the break.

On Jan. 10, UK held an 11-point halftime lead on the Commodores before surrendering it. The Cats ultimately won that game by two, but fell into a deep offensive drought late that allowed the lead to shrink.

And Tuesday night, they fell into a similar spell. The Cats didn’t score for a four-minute stretch in the middle of the second half that erased their double-digit lead.

All of a sudden, the Commodores were within two. A 3-pointer from graduate student Julius Mays with three minutes left gave UK some cushion.

But, every time the Cats tried to extend it, Vanderbilt answered quickly. Ultimately, UK led by three with a minute left. After two free throws from freshman guard Archie Goodwin, freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein blocked shots on consecutive possessions to hold the lead and seal the win for the Cats.

One of the biggest keys to UK’s solid offensive output was Cauley-Stein’s career-high 20 points to go along with seven rebounds and three blocks. His 32 minutes were also a career-high.

Coming off back-to-back scoreless games last week, sophomore guard Ryan Harrow was in a rut. He was benched by Calipari to begin the Tennessee game, but he took it upon himself to go to his coach and get his spot back.

“I just felt like I needed to go to Coach Cal and tell him that I was going to do whatever he needed me to do,” Harrow said. “I called my mom before and told her I was nervous. My hands were sweating.”

The sophomore responded with his most productive night in several games. Harrow finished with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.

UK now looks ahead to a big game Saturday against Missouri, part of ESPN College GameDay. The Tigers, who beat Florida on Tuesday night, pose a tough test, but the Cats feel good about where Wednesday’s win can take them.

“We are starting over basically,” freshman guard Archie Goodwin said. “We are missing a key person and this is another roadblock that was in our way again. … It’s another thing that can help us come closer together.”