It wasn't the prettiest game and the rising emotions on the floor likely had something to do with it. But when the game between Kentucky and Vanderbilt came down to crunch time it was the younger squad that made the winning plays in a hostile environment. A John Wall free throw (he'd made two prior to give them a 57-53 lead) gave the Wildcats the 58-56 win but this was more about the Commodores missing valuable opportunities to put the game away. DeMarcus Cousins led all scorers with 19 points while Wall and Patrick Patterson (13 rebounds) added 13 points apiece in leading Kentucky to a win that likely sews up the SEC title.
Vanderbilt, who went into the game leading the SEC in free throws attempted, took 25 foul shots yet did themselves in by stubbornly firing away from behind the arc when shots weren't falling. The Commodores, who were led by Jeffrey Taylor's 17 points, made just two of twenty shots from behind the arc and also turned the ball over fifteen times. The worst transgression: Jermaine Beal passing up a drive to the basket to kick the ball out to John Jenkins, whose three-pointer was blocked by Wall to preserve a one-point lead (57-56) with three seconds left in the game. The national Player of the Year candidate made the second of two free throws to extend the lead and when A.J. Ogilvy's (3-8 FG, 9 points) floater missed the Wildcats extended their lead in the SEC East to two games with four to go.
"This is the type of win that I love," remarked John Calipari. "We were able to grind it out. Everyone knows that we like to play fast, but we don't force our will on the opponent. When it comes to tournament time, you have to be able to play different styles and we did that tonight (quote courtesy of UK Athletics)."
It was a significant test for Kentucky, one that more than a few did not expect them to pass. But in completing the week 2-0 with a couple of tough wins in hostile environments the Wildcats were able to show off some of the mettle needed to cut down the nets in April. You're not going to be dominant every night; some games you'll simply have to win by making a play or two late and Kentucky got the job done.
Three Key Happenings
1. Florida wins in Oxford, boosting their Tournament hopes while crushing those of Ole Miss. In a game that both teams needed in order to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive the Gators made the crucial plays late to win 64-61. The loss represents two missed chances at resume wins for the Rebels (lost to Vanderbilt on Thursday) and with both games being at Tad Smith Coliseum it wouldn't be a stretch to say that they're in dire straits now. Vernon Macklin led all scorers with 22 points while also grabbing seven rebounds while Terrance Henry scored seventeen off the bench to pace the Rebels.
The problem for Ole Miss, as it's been for much of the season, was shot selection. Not so much who's shooting (of course you want Chris Warren and Terrico White with the ball) but the fact that they take so many contested perimeter shots. As a result Florida essentially won the game from the foul line, outscoring the Rebels by sixteen points (25-27 to 9-11) and that's a margin that's virtually unheard of in favor of a visiting team. The win keeps Florida in the at-large conversation at a time when many teams are doing more to eliminate themselves from consideration, and that's the least you can ask for this time of the year.
2. Oklahoma State picks up an important win over Baylor. James Anderson (31 points, 12 rebounds) and Keiton Page (22 points) led the way as the Pokes may have punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament with an 82-75 win over Baylor in Stillwater. Travis Ford's Cowboys begin a four-game stretch against ranked opponents, providing ample opportunities for them to not only play themselves into the Big Dance but also improve their seeding along the way. Tweety Carter led the Bears with 25 points but he needed twenty shots to do so while LaceDarius Dunn made just five of seventeen from the field.
Anderson and Page both made five of eight from behind the arc and for the game Oklahoma State hit fourteen of twenty-five on the afternoon. Baylor wasn't too shabby themselves in making twelve of twenty-two, but when your overall field goal percentage is 38.8% you're going to have a tough time winning on the road (doing the math, Baylor shot 31.1% (14-45) from two). But this was more about Oklahoma State picking up a win they needed if they're to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Left over in the four-game stretch are road games against Texas and Texas A&M with the home contest being against...Kansas.
3. Cliff Tucker's three gives Maryland the win over Georgia Tech. How often do you see a team hit a game-winning shot yet have it nullified by a timeout...and then they come back and hit a shot to win the game? That's exactly what happened at the Comcast Center as Maryland beat Georgia Tech 76-74 to strengthen their NCAA Tournament argument. After a Derrick Favors (21 points, 18 rebounds) putback gave the Yellow Jackets a 74-73 lead with just over two seconds remaining Greivis Vasquez made the charge up the floor, banking in a three pointer. But the shot didn't count because Maryland called a timeout before the release, allowing Gary Williams the opportunity to draw up a final play. Coach Williams drew up a play that looked eerily similar to the one that Georgia Tech used in the 1992 NCAA Tournament to beat USC (James Forrest), and when Cliff Tucker's three fell the crowd went wild.
Vasquez, in leading the Terps with 18 points, became the first player in ACC history to account for at least 2,000 points, 700 assists and 600 rebounds. Yet for all that the senior from Venezuela has accomplished in his four years even he recognized how important Tucker's shot was. "Every win we got, we got it as a team. This is nothing about me; our team has done a great job, being positive. Praise Cliff. He made that big shot for us and won the game (quote courtesy of Maryland Athletics)." Maryland moves closer to locking up a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament and likely locked up an NCAA berth in the process.
Top Three Games
1. Maryland 76, Georgia Tech 74 See above.
2. Kentucky 58, Vanderbilt 56 See above.
3. New Mexico 59, Air Force 56 The Lobos survived an upset bid from the Falcons that if completed would have supplanted Penn's win over Cornell as the biggest surprise of the season. Darington Hobson's (17 pts, 8 reb, 5 ast) putback with 16.9 seconds remaining gave UNM the lead for good, keeping them in a tie for first place in the Mountain West. Grant Parker led the Falcons with 17 points.
Three Notable Performances
1. G James Anderson (Oklahoma St) 31 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in the Cowboys' 82-75 win over Baylor.
2. G Kyle Ohman (Liberty) Ohman scored 39 points and grabbed ten rebounds in the Flames' 76-67 win over High Point.
3. F Derrick Favors (Georgia Tech) Favors went for 21 points and 18 rebounds in the Yellow Jackets' 76-74 loss at Maryland.