Vaught's Views; There was a lot to like in Kentucky's win over Tennessee
Kentucky¿s forward Anthony Davis (23) blocks a shot from Cameron Tatum (23) in the first half of Tuesday¿s 69-44 win over the Volunteers. Davis blocked seven shots to go with his 18 points and eight rebounds. (Clay Jackson)
However, UK¿coach John Calipari had to admit “we were good” after watching his No. 1 Wildcats stymie Tennessee 69-44 Tuesday night.
“We played in a rough game. We played good,” said Calipari.
Good enough that UK made its first 11 shots from the field and opened a 20-5 lead before the Volunteers knew what happened. Good enough that when things got a little chippy following a Terrence Jones’ power move to the basket, the Cats didn’t back down and even the normally mild-mannered Anthony Davis got a technical foul. Good enough that even though the Cats were just 1-for-10 from 3-point range, they won easily by 21 of their other 31 shots and 24 of 27 free throws. Good enough that Tennessee shot just 28.1 percent (16-for-57) from the field and became the third straight team to score 50 or fewer points against UK — something that has not happened since the 1950-51 season.
There was no star, either. Instead, it was a game where Calipari could point to everyone and find something to like.
Start with Anthony Davis, who continues to make his case for national player of the year honors. Once again he flirted with only UK’s second triple-double before finishing with 18 points (6-for-7 from the field and foul line), eight rebounds and seven blocks to increase his nation’s best total to 108. He also threw in three assists and had Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin calling him a “once-in-a-lifetime player” because of all he does.
“I’ve said it before. He’s the difference, probably one of the best, if not the best in country at changing the game with his presence on the defensive side of the ball,”¿Martin said.
Go to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He had a ho-hum 16 points (5-for-9 from the field), eight rebounds, two steals, one block and one assist and never quit smiling or battling. If there’s a loose ball or rebound he doesn’t think he can get, I’ve not seen it yet this year.
“He’s playing,” Calipari said.
“I just love basketball,” Kidd-Gilchrist said.
But here’s the best part for Calipari and Kentucky.
“You can go right down the line. Darius (Miller) and Doron (Lamb) didn’t play great, but they played good defense. And it’s not like they played bad,” Calipari said. “We’re not going to be pitching shutouts, so¿I’m happy with the team. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to keep improving. We love to play fast. But if we have to grind it out, we can and we did at the end. We can play both ways if we have to.”
That’s because point guard Marquis Teague is settling into his role as team leader, just as John Wall and Brandon Knight did the previous two years. He went about 30 minutes without a turnover Tuesday and finished the game with nine points, four assists, two rebouns and one steal. He was solid on defense and had just two late turnovers.
“I am just trying to run the offense and get good shots for my teammates,” Teague said. “Our defense made it difficult for them to get shots off. We played a lot better than we did at Tennessee (in a three-point win).”
Calipari was not ready to call his team scary good or elite despite the easy back-to-back wins. The coach has been calling for his team to elevate its play and negate other teams’ physical play. He said the LSU game was “rougher” and noted that UK also hit seven 3-point shots in that win.
But one constant in both easy wins was solid play from Terrence Jones. He had 11 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals against Tennessee, nothing close to the 27 points, nine rebounds and three blocks he had at LSU. However, he was a physical presence again, and no Tennessee player accused him of being soft after the game as the Vols did after the earlier meeting.
Jones, a sophomore, wasn’t ready to use the word “scary” for UK’s play, either. He chose his words more carefully.
“I think our team is improving and getting better each game,”¿Jones said. “It’s just how we are playing good and it is showing up on offense and defense and has led to the outcomes we’ve had the last two games. We are concentrating more and trusting one another and playing more team ball and that’s what is leading to easy wins.”
Whatever it is, Kentucky is now 22-1 and 8-0 in Southeastern Conference play. However, road games remain at Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Florida, all top-25 teams. Yet this team seems to relish the thought of that challenge.
“We just play,”¿Kidd-Gilchrist said. “We don’t care who or when. If we play ball, we can win. That’s what we believe. We have fun and we win. That’s what we do.”