No. 5 Kentucky narrowly escapes upset, defeats Vanderbilt 77-70


Kentucky huddles together during the UK vs. Vanderbilt basketball game on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 77-70. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke

No. 5 Kentucky (18-4) narrowly avoided an upset at home on Wednesday, defeating Vanderbilt (11-10) 77-70 at Rupp Arena.

The Wildcats were boosted by two 20-plus point performances from graduate student Davion Mintz and junior forward Keion Brooks Jr, who finished with 21 and 20 points respectively.

While the strong showing for Brooks was notable, it could hardly be described as shocking, following his 27-point performance in Kentucky’s 80-62 win over No. 5 Kansas in the game prior.

“You just gotta stay focused on getting better every day,” Brooks said. “We’ve been playing well lately and we’ve got some guys that have been stepping up. We got to continue to stay getting better, just block out all the noise and that’s positive or negative and zone in on our work.”

On the other hand, Mintz’s 21 points set a new season-high, beating out his 19-point showing over Georgia, also tying his career-high at Kentucky.

“This team is very talented and part of that is because of their unselfishness,” Mintz said. “I didn’t know how many [points] I had at the time, but after the game, Sahvir [Wheeler] came up to me and told me, ‘I kept passing to you so you could get [to 20 points]’. I appreciated it and that’s love.”

Brooks and Mintz stepped up to fill the roles that had been left open by Kentucky’s usual stars who failed to shine against the Commodores.

Oscar Tshiebwe noticeably struggled, finishing the game with 11 points, with seven of them coming from the free throw line. Tshiebwe was also called for four personal fouls, two of which were upgraded to flagrant-1 fouls in the process.

“I think [Vanderbilt] egged him on,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “I think other coaches are going to watch this game, and they’re going to say to rough him up more and don’t let him move. He’s going to have to be smart, because now that’s what they’ll do.

Other noticeable absences for Kentucky include point guard Sahvir Wheeler, who finished the game with three points, all of which came from the free throw line with under three minutes left to play.

Despite the lack of scoring, which he had been excelling at in recent games, he would make up for it with nine assists, finishing the game with the second highest plus-minus, just behind Mintz at plus-13.

One factor in Wheeler’s scoring issues was being limited in the first half, playing just 10 minutes after taking two fouls early. 

Wheeler was far from the only player to deal with fouls, however, as Wednesday night’s matchup was riddled with physicality.

By the end of the game, both teams had combined for a whopping 45 fouls, with Vanderbilt in particular picking up 17 fouls in the second half. Astonishingly, just one player, Vandy’s Quentin Millora-Brown, fouled out for either side, while five other players finished the contest with four fouls.

“That was a really physical game,” Brooks said. “It was just one of those games, I don’t remember how many flagrants were called. I got pushed around in some spots, and now we just gotta go back to the film, we don’t want other teams to come in and think they can push us around.”

The win over Vanderbilt officially earns Kentucky its first SEC sweep of the season after defeating the Commodores 78-66 in Nashville in early January.

No. 5 Kentucky returns to action this Saturday, Feb. 5, on the road against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. 

The matchup is set to tip-off at 8 p.m. EST from Coleman Coliseum and will air on ESPN.