UK unable to make the plays in close loss to Vanderbilt



NASHVILLE, Tenn. – He was a flurry all night, twisting and scooping and shooting his way to 32 points, and UK had to give John Jenkins credit for that.

But it was two defensive breakdowns on Jenkins that really made UK (17-7, 5-5 SEC) bitter about its 81-77 loss to Vanderbilt (18-6, 6-4 SEC).

The first: UK, up two points late in the second half, fouled Jenkins on a three-point shot. Jenkins, a 90 percent free-throw shooter, hit all three to give Vanderbilt a 64-63 lead.

“Why would you foul the kid?” UK head coach John Calipari asked. “Kid hasn’t missed a foul.”

The second: With the game tied, UK blew a defensive assignment, failing to pick Jenkins up in the corner. The Vanderbilt star nailed the shot to get the Commodores a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

“Left him in the corner one time,” Calipari said, slapping his face to cover his eyes. “I don’t know what we were thinking. (I asked) ‘Why did you leave him? ’I didn’t.’ I don’t know what that’s called, but you were five steps off him.”

UK had trouble guarding Jenkins all night, no matter who was on him. He made six of 10 threes. DeAndre Liggins, normally the ace shutdown defender, was in foul trouble (not helped by a technical he received in the first half for jawing at the Vanderbilt bench after a layup). Brandon Knight played on him some, but Knight was the one who committed the foul. Even when Jenkins was seemingly bottled up, he found a way.

“There were some we were all over,” Calipari said. That included one running drive in the lane through two defenders.

“I don’t know,” Josh Harrellson said when asked how Jenkins made the shot. “He just scooped it, went under my hand and bounced around the rim a couple times. That was one of those nights he was having.”

Afterward, Jenkins received a head rub from virtually every teammate and staff member and took a pause before heading off the court to pose with his arms outstretched in front of the Vanderbilt student section.

Despite Jenkins’ late-game prowess, UK still had a chance. But Vanderbilt mixed its defense up and threw a zone at UK for the first time all game.

Although Calipari said UK was prepared for the zone, it worked. Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones committed back-to-back turnovers that Vanderbilt used to build a 75-69 lead.

“That’s what lost it for us, is us turning the ball over and them knocking down free throws,” Jones said.

It was ironically fitting that Knight and Jones made those two costly mistakes, because it was the pair of freshmen who kept UK close.

Jones and Knight each hit a three-pointer inside a minute left to play, but Vanderbilt hit all six free throws down the stretch to stave off a comeback.

Jones scored 25 points and Knight scored 20, and both came to post-game interviews with ice packs (on both knees for Knight and the right hand for Jones).

UK played almost the entire second half without Darius Miller after he left the game with a leg injury. Although he was put back in the game a couple times, he couldn’t do enough. His first possession back, with UK in transition offense, Miller couldn’t make it past half court.

That forced Calipari to keep Doron Lamb in the game even though Lamb “did not need to be in this game.” At the end of the first half, Lamb gave up on a play after Knight committed a turnover.

Knight blocked the layup, but Lamb’s player was there to clean up.

“My staff said (Lamb) was in front of the guy who ran it down and grabbed that ball,” Calipari said. “All he had to do is run, he grabs that. Maybe we’re up at the half.”

Instead, UK was down. And Jenkins shot Vanderbilt to victory.

“There was a lot of good,” Calipari said. “I just don’t like losing.”


Calipari, part 2:

Knight, Jones and Harrellson:

Game notes:

Vanderbilt shot 13-for-34 on two-pointers and 11-for-20 on three-pointers. “We missed so many wide open threes,” Calipari said. “Like, wide open. Guys couldn’t make them today. You think about it. They’re wide open. And we’re the best three-shooting team in the league. At least before today. You would think we would make them, but they made them.”

Knight played 38 minutes. “I played him too much today,” Calipari said. “But I didn’t have a choice.”

Josh Harrellson scored seven points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Better, he limited Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli to 14 points and seven rebounds. Vanderbilt went to Ezeli early, but Harrellson showed it wasn’t going to be a mismatch to exploit. “That was a tough battle for Josh.”

On one play late in the game, Knight put up something that seemed to be either a shot or an alley-oop. Jones went up to grab it, but mishandled the ball. “I didn’t know if it was a shot or a pass,” Jones said. “I was just trying to get it. I was scared they were going to call offensive goaltending, so I backed off a little bit.”

On the final play, with UK down four, Jones rose to hoist a three and fell to the floor trying to draw a foul. He missed the three, but said he thought he drew contact. “But they didn’t call it. We had a lot of opportunities way before that, so I’m not putting it on that.”

Jenkins played nearly all game. The official stats have him at 40-, which means he didn’t play for less than 30 seconds.

DeAndre Liggins received a technical foul in the first half for saying something toward Vanderbilt’s bench after a layup. “Obviously we don’t want him to get a technical, but he’s not the problem,” Calipari said.