UK wins in Harrellson’s home finale

UK Basketball: Vandy 2011 – Images by Kentucky Kernel

Josh Harrellson was the center of attention all day, as the lone senior on Senior Night.

At the end of the game, he was right in the middle of everything again, guarding an inbounds play with UK up two. Vanderbilt, inbounding from the corner, threw a lob toward the basket, toward Festus Ezeli.

“I saw the coach say ‘after you screen, go to the rim for the lob,’” Harrellson said. “I was face guarding, putting my hands up as high as I could. I knew if it went over my head, Terrence was going to be there to swat it out or do something.”

Jones did, knocking the ball loose and giving UK (21-8, 9-6 SEC) a 68-66 win over Vanderbilt (21-8, 9-6 SEC) that moved the Cats into a tie for second-place in the SEC East and a potential bye in the SEC Tournament.

Vanderbilt looked for Ezeli because he had been moving Harrellson around all night, scoring 22 points and almost singlehandedly keeping Vanderbilt in the game in the first half.

“He was kicking ass,” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said.

Harrellson made an adjustment, trying to force Ezeli to catch the ball farther away from the basket, all the way through the final play.

After the buzzer sounded, Harrellson was able to flip into full-time celebration mode. He danced the Carlton at halfcourt. He grabbed hold of a giant cardboard cutout of his own face.

He had to wait for the very end, though, to celebrate a successful Senior Night. Although UK held a lead as large as 13 with less than 13 minutes to play, Vanderbilt stormed back with a 16-4 run to capture its first lead of the game.

Helped by a block by Harrellson and two Jones free throws, UK took a lead entering the stretch.

“I just wanted to win my last game at Rupp,” said Harrellson, who scored eight points and had nine rebounds. “I was going to do anything that it took to win. I wanted to go out with a bang.”

Jones and Brandon Knight, who led the team with 17 points, combined to hit seven of UK’s last eight free throws. Each hit two apiece within the final 30 seconds. Knight’s, with less than 10 seconds left, gave UK a three-point lead. Instead of taking a chance with Vanderbilt hitting a tying three, Calipari ordered an intentional foul that sent Brad Tinsley to the line for a one-and-one.

“I just made the decision based on their team,” Calipari said. “I didn’t want them to get a look at a three. They’re too good a 3-shooting team.”

Tinsley hit the first, and then intentionally missed the second, trying for a carom that would let Vanderbilt rebound the ball.

“We were going to try to miss the free throw, and it almost ended up working out,” Stallings said. “He missed it long, and kind of to the middle. I was hoping more for a directional miss. We had an end around kind of, but we still ended up getting it. Not in a very good spot, but we ended up getting a look, anyway.”

Jones flagged the ball down in the corner, but under duress, traveled, although it looked like it could have been a foul or called out of bounds.

“I didn’t know what he was going to call,” Jones said. “I was waiting for something to happen, and he called a travel at the last second.”