By LARRY VAUGHT
NASHVILLE — After a 9-0 burst to open the game and make it seem like another Southeastern Conference blowout was coming for Kentucky, things really got interesting here Tuesday night before UK beat Vanderbilt 87-81.
The Commodores went on a 17-6 run after UK took the 9-0 lead after UK starting guards Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox both picked up two fouls in the first three minutes.
After that, Kentucky could never pull away from the Commodores and found itself trailing several times in the second half before clutch scoring by Monk and Fox in the final two minutes enabled UK to survive.
Isaiah Briscoe led UK with 23 points on 10 for 18 shooting, seven rebounds and five assists. Fox had 22 points on 11-for-17 shooting, five rebounds and two assists. Monk went 6-for-15 from the field and had 18 points while Bam Adebayo had 14 points and seven rebounds.
That meant that the foursome had 77 of UK’s 87 points.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game. When we came out and refs were calling easy fouls on Malik and De’Aaron …I knew when those two guys went out it was a big part of our team,” Briscoe said. Not only did we show people we are a transition team, but we are also good in the half court.”
Vanderbilt went only 8-for-29 from 3-point range — it was average 13 3’s per SEC game — but made 23 of 32 free throw tries. The Commodores had three players with 19 points and a fourth with 16.
Kentucky had 46 points in the paint to just 32 for Vandy but also had just eight assists on 34 made field goals. Kentucky was also just 1-for-9 from 3-point range as Monk made a trey in the opening 9-0 surge and then UK missed its next eight tries. Kentucky also had just one blocked shot and two steals in the game.
“They play a slow game and are disciplined, and we didn’t get the steals,” Fox said. “Down the stretch we executed and made free throws and showed people we can play in tough games.”