No. 18 Kentucky roll past Vanderbilt 78-66 for first road win of season


Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) prepares to go up for a layup during the University of Kentucky vs. High Point basketball game on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jackson Dunavant | Staff

Hunter Shelton

No. 18 Kentucky fought past its road woes on Tuesday night, defeating Vanderbilt 78-66 inside Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville. 

The win improves UK’s record to 13-3 (3-1 SEC) in the regular season, while dropping Vanderbilt to 9-6 (1-2 SEC.) Kentucky has now defeated Vanderbilt 11 consecutive times.  

Despite the Commodores ending the game on a 16-0 run, Kentucky was able to claim its first road win of the season thanks to a career-high 30 points from Oscar Tshiebwe.  

On 11-16 shooting, Tshiebwe carved up the Commodore frontcourt, cementing his place as one of the best players in college basketball.  

“I’ve never even had a dream about scoring 30 points in a game,” Tshiebwe said post-game.  

UK head coach John Calipari had challenged Tshiebwe to get up and down the court quicker, something the West Virginia transfer excelled at on Tuesday.  

“I am focused on [Tshiebwe] running that court, it puts him ahead of the action,” Calipari said.  

Tshiebwe knows that when he is at the pinnacle of his ability, he can take it to any other big man in the country.  

“The coaches, they need me to run…no big [man] can run with me,” Tshiebwe said.  

Vanderbilt’s Scotty Pippen Jr, the leading scorer in the SEC, would pace the Commodores with a career-high of his own, dropping 32 points on 11-18 shooting.  

Aside from Pippen’s 32, just one other Commodore reached double-figures scoring, as Trey Thomas scored 14. The next highest total for Vanderbilt was six.  

TyTy Washington Jr impressed once again in his second outing as starting point guard, stuffing the stat sheet with 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal.  

Washington took over the point guard duties for the injured Sahvir Wheeler, who has now missed the last two games due to a neck injury suffered against LSU. Wheeler was listed as questionable against Vanderbilt, but did not dress out.  

Kentucky dominated the Dores on the box score, out-shooting Vandy 52.5 percent to 42.9 while dominating the glass, recording 42 boards to the Commodores’ 26. Kentucky did most of its damage in the paint, out-scoring Vandy 36-18 down-low.  

A slight tweak to the starting lineup was made by Calipari, as Davion Mintz moved into the starting rotation over Jacob Toppin, who began the game against Georgia on Saturday, Jan. 8 

Calipari felt as though the team was better off with Mintz among the starting group rather than Toppin: 

“I just didn’t like it, I didn’t like the skill sets, I didn’t like the basket making ability,” Calipari said about the rotation with Toppin starting. 

Mintz would finish with nine points on Tuesday night, all of which came via the 3-pointer. 

Kentucky began the game running its offense entirely through Washington and Tshiebwe. The guard-forward combo combined for the Wildcats’ first 17 points, torching the Vanderbilt defense.  

The Dores’ deficit would stay close early on, thanks to Pippen draining three 3-pointers early. The defensive assignment on Pippen switched throughout the game, as Mintz, Washington and Kellan Grady all found themselves guarding the SEC’s leading scorer. 

UK’s first bucket that didn’t belong to Washington or Tshiebwe came with 12:47 remaining in the half, as Keion Brooks landed a putback jam.  

Vanderbilt lived and died by the deep ball early on, as the first 12 Commodore shots came from beyond the arch.  

Kentucky remained efficient from downtown all night, making four of five 3-pointers in the first half, finishing the game shooting 6-12, 50 percent from deep.  

Good shot-selection and great defense by UK helped the Cats hold an 11-point lead midway through the first half. Then the starting lineup went to the bench.  

UK’s bench rotation was unable to hold the early lead, as the Commodores went on an 11-0 run to tie the game at 22. Kentucky was held scoreless for more than five minutes. 

Grady’s first and only 3-pointer of the night would silence the Vandy run, breaking the last tie the game would see.  

Calipari would send the starting group back out to the floor, and immediately they would return to dominating the Dores.  

A 14-0 run nullified any Vanderbilt momentum heading into the locker room. Pippen would attempt to answer, finishing the half with 17 points, but the Cats would cash in on seven of their last nine shots, taking a 41-28 lead into the break.  

Washington and Tshiebwe scored 26 of the Cats’ 41 first-half points, nearly matching the Vanderbilt total. Grady and Mintz entered the half with seven and six points, respectively.  

The second half once again got off to a fast start, with Vandy’s Thomas swishing his first two 3-point attempts of the half.  

UK would answer, connecting on four of its first seven shots out of the break, halting the Dores from cutting down the Wildcat lead.  

Tshiebwe would immediately go back to work, recording seven points in the first six minutes of the half. 

The Vanderbilt interior would continue to have no answer for the big man, as he would add 15 second-half points to his total, reaching his new career high.  

“I got a lot of confidence now,” Tshiebwe said. “I can see the floor really good.” 

Kentucky would go up by as much as 25 in the second half, providing an opportunity to earn its first road win of the season with a bang. This would not be the case.  

As Calipari began to sub-out his starters for presumably the final time, Pippen and Co. remained persistent and capitalized on sloppy play from the Wildcats down the stretch.  

Multiple turnovers and easy buckets for Vanderbilt led to a 16-0 run over the final 5:16 of the game, turning the final score from a blowout to a closer outcome.  

The Cats defeated the Commodores 78-66, leaving a bit of a sour taste in the mouths of the Kentucky faithful.  

“We let go of the rope,” Calipari said. “It’s something we have to get better at.”  

While it didn’t end smoothly, the game ends as a Kentucky win, its second in a row following the loss to LSU in Baton Rouge.  

With conference play in full swing, the road only gets harder from here.  

“It’s got to be all of us…we got hard games coming up,” Calipari said.  

Kentucky will return home to prepare for yet another tough matchup, as the No. 22 Tennessee Volunteers will head to Rupp Arena for a ranked rivalry showdown with the Wildcats this Saturday, Jan. 15. 

Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. ET and can be seen on ESPN.