By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Basketball is a game of little things. A failure to block out for a rebound on a free throw attempt. A loose ball that slips off the fingertips. Maybe a free throw that kicks off the back of the rim. A turnover on an inbounds play. None of them are huge but taken all together can be game changers.
Case in point. Kentucky is 6-1 in games decided by 7 points or less. UK is currently 14-3. On the flip side Vanderbilt has lost 7 games by 9 points or less. Vanderbilt’s current record is 6-11. Down the stretch Saturday in the UK – Vanderbilt game played in Nashville the Kentucky players took care of some of those “little” things that determine the outcome of a game. Unfortunately for Vanderbilt they missed on a few of those “little” things that put them on the losing side of the scoreboard.
Here’s how it played out. With a little more than a minute to play in regulation Hamidou Diallo hit a 3-point shot from the corner to give UK an 8-point lead. Vanderbilt immediately came down the floor and hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 69-64. UK then made 1 of 2 free throws and Vandy hit a layup to put the score at 70-66 with about 30 seconds to play. Vanderbilt’s Riley LaChance – the fourth best 3-point shooter in the SEC – was fouled on a 3-point shot by Diallo. LaChance – an 89% shooter from the line – incredibly missed all three free throws. It’s the little things. While LaChance was missing his free throws Kevin Knox – UK’s “do-it-all” player from Tampa – knocked down four free throws in four attempts in the last 25 seconds to seal the victory.
Down the stretch in the second half other UK players grabbed key rebounds, made key put backs and had stellar assists to team mates under the basket for layups. Once again it’s the “little” things that sometimes add up to a huge victory. The hustle plays. The little extra effort plays that never show up in the box score. Some guys are making those late in the games. Other guys need to start. Teams that win close games at the end are teams that believe they will win. And they make the plays that back it up.
With the win UK moves to 4-1 in the SEC with road wins at LSU and Vanderbilt. This on an afternoon when they only played a seven-man rotation. On an afternoon when they shot better than fifty-percent from the field and held Vanderbilt to thirty-eight percent shooting and won the rebound battle as well.
Nothing comes easy in the SEC. Road victories are hard to come by. Just ask 0-5 Texas A&M. They were ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll at the end of December. They’ve now lost five in a row in the SEC. Two of their last three losses were by one point and two of the three were on the road. It’s the “little things”.
Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden said,”Little things make big things happen.” UK Basketball can attest to that. So can the Vanderbilt Commodores. A missed free throw here. A missed rebound there and all of a sudden the game slips away. And then you look back and the season has slipped away also. Thankfully the Kentucky Wildcats are learning how to do the “little” things… one game at a time.