January 11, 2014
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – John Calipari sees his young Kentucky Wildcats growing up and playing more the way he wants even if youthful mistakes still slip through.
Willie Cauley-Stein scored 15 points, and No. 14 Kentucky beat Vanderbilt 71-62 Saturday for the Wildcats’ fourth straight victory.
Aaron Harrison added 14 points and Andrew Harrison 10 and Kentucky (12-3, 2-0) started off a two-game road swing through the Southeastern Conference with a win. Julius Randle had 10 of his 11 rebounds in the first half.
“We’re still not there I’m telling you,” Calipari said. “But I’m looking around the country I don’t see anybody there so this is all good. I like my team, I like our progress. We have the biggest upside of any team in the country. We do. We’re the youngest team in the country. That’s what we are, and I just got to try to be patient with them.”
Calipari has nine freshmen on his roster, the same number of total players Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings has available right now with leading scorer Eric McClellan first suspended from the university Wednesday before being dismissed from the program on Friday.
That left senior Rod Odom as Vandy’s leading scorer averaging 13.8 points a game, and he spent 10 minutes of the first half on the bench because of foul trouble. He finished with five points.
“Rod’s now our leading scorer,” Stallings said. “Every team needs their leading scorer.”
Freshman Damian Jones had a game-high 18 points and 11 rebounds for Vanderbilt (8-6, 0-2). Kyle Fuller had 17 points and 10 assists, and Dai-Jon Parker added 17.
Vanderbilt outshot Kentucky 50 percent (25 of 50) to 42.6 percent (26 of 61).
But the Wildcats used their size for a 41-28 rebounding edge, and their much deeper bench outscored the two scholarship players on Vanderbilt’s bench 19-3.
“They attack offensive rebounds,” Stallings said of Kentucky. “Randle is a great offensive rebounder. I thought Cauley-Stein played well for them. Sometimes you watch film, and there’s a guy who stands out who you like. He’s that player. You don’t have to make plays for him, and he’ll still get you good production. They’re a great offensive rebounding team.”
The Wildcats took advantage of Vanderbilt’s woes by painting the inside of Memorial Gym blue with fans making themselves right at home chanting “Go Big Blue” early and often.
Kentucky took the lead for good at 8-6 on a jumper by Aaron Harrison, the first of nine straight points as the Wildcats took advantage of a nearly 6-minute scoring drought by Vanderbilt to go up 15-6. Calipari anticipated Vanderbilt trying to grind his Wildcats down, so he had them open the game trying to match that pace.
“We’re going to change a little bit because our starts are so bad, so we’re going to grind a little bit and make them play defense,” Calipari said.
The Wildcats led 30-22 at halftime but didn’t take control until Andrew Harrison hit back-to-back 3-pointers, the second midway through the second half pushing the Wildcats’ lead back to double digits. Alex Poythress added his first bucket on a layup giving Kentucky its biggest lead at 53-39 with 9:26 left.
Cauley-Stein said he thought the Wildcats played a good game.
“That’s been one of the biggest things this year is the word we’re not a good team and we got selfish guys, but I mean the last couple days of practice we’ve been getting closer … basketball-wise as a team, and the game just showed that we really do got each other’s back and we really do got good guys,” Cauley-Stein said.
A technical called on Poythress for delay after a dunk with 5:37 left helped Vanderbilt score five quick points including a 3-pointer by Parker to pull within 60-52 with 5:20 left.
Vandy got within 65-58 on a 3-pointer by Fuller with 2:00 left. The Commodores could get no closer as Kentucky dribbled to run out the clock and hit a couple free throws in the final minute, though Aaron Harrison threw up a lob for a would-be dunk in the final seconds that drew boos mixed both for the attempt and the poor execution.
Calipari took a timeout so he could remind the freshman guard he wants the easier layup instead of the AAU-style pass.
“Just take the points,” Calipari said.