Two struggling Southeastern Conference teams hope to build momentum after Saturday’s victories when Kentucky travels to Nashville, Tennessee, to face Vanderbilt on Wednesday night.
Kentucky (6-13, 5-7 SEC), ranked 10th in the AP preseason poll, found some hope in a bitterly disappointing season in its 82-80 win over Auburn. Six Wildcats scored at least nine points in that game, with Isaiah Jackson (18 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks) leading the way.
“I find joy in close games,” Devin Askew, who had nine points and four assists, said this week. “We’re going to get ahead, and that feeling is great. And we’re going to have that feeling again.”
A loss could have tested that faith. Kentucky trailed by nine in the first half, but rallied to lead 63-49 with 10:36 to play before Auburn came back to tie at 77 with 46 seconds to go.
The Wildcats, who rank 13th in the league in scoring in all games (69.2), have recently shown an offensive improvement. Auburn’s victory was the fourth time in a row that Kentucky exceeded that average.
Four Wildcats, led by Brandon Boston Jr. (12.2 points), are averaging double figures in scoring, with Davion Mintz (9.9) falling just outside that group.
The pair played a big part in Saturday’s victory. Mintz’s 3-pointer with 33 seconds left put the Wildcats ahead forever, while Boston had its second straight 17-point game.
The Wildcats are 3-7 in games decided by six points or less.
Vanderbilt (6-10, 2-8) can sympathize with the Wildcats’ lack of good luck, as the Commodores are 1-4 in games decided by the same margin.
One of Kentucky’s three close victories was a 77-74 victory over Vanderbilt at Rupp Arena on January 5.
Vandy’s Scotty Pippen Jr., Dylan Disu and Jordan Wright scored 18 each that night. Pippen added eight assists and Disu, the SEC’s leader in rebounding with 8.4 per game, had 10 rebounds as Vandy led for much of the second half but was unable to close.
Vanderbilt generally goes like Pippen. The Commodores were underdog by 7 1/2 points Saturday at Mississippi State, but Pippen nailed three 3s in the opening 2:11 to get Vandy off to a good start.
“This was a great victory for us,” coach Jerry Stackhouse said Saturday. “With all the noise that was going on, our guys just went in and locked themselves in and kept their foot on the metal of what we’re trying to build and what we’re trying to do. I’m so proud of … their effort in the defensive boards against (Mississippi State) “.
Pippen had nine assists and four turnovers against MSU. He had 23 points, seven assists and just one turnover in Vandy’s other SEC win, a 93-81 win over South Carolina on January 30.
Erratic seniors Max Evans and Clevon Brown have also made a difference in wins. Evans had 20 against MSU and 29 against South Carolina.
Brown, who has missed six games with various ailments, was sidelined at Lexington. But a five-block game against Auburn (Feb. 9) followed with season-highs in minutes (31), points (15) and steals (five).
The fifth-year senior had scored just 16 points and blocked one shot in the 155 minutes he had played this year entering the MSU game.
Kentucky has won the last nine series games.
–Field level media
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.