Two struggling Southeastern Conference teams hope to establish momentum after Saturday wins when Kentucky travels to Nashville, Tenn., to meet Vanderbilt on Wednesday evening.
Kentucky (6-13, 5-7 SEC), ranked 10th in the AP’s 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 come out on top, and that feeling is great. And we’re going to get that feeling again.”
A loss might have tested that faith. Kentucky trailed by nine in the first half but stormed back to lead 63-49 with 10:36 left before Auburn came back to tie it at 77 with 46 seconds left.
The Wildcats, who rank 13th in the league in scoring in all games (69.2), have recently shown offensive improvement. The Auburn win was the fourth straight time in which Kentucky has exceeded that average.
Four Wildcats, paced by Brandon Boston Jr. (12.2 points), average in double figures in scoring, with Davion Mintz (9.9) falling just outside that group.
The pair had a big hand in Saturday’s win. Mintz’s 3 with 33 seconds left put the Wildcats back ahead for good, while Boston had his 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 fortune, as the Commodores are 1-4 in games decided by the same margin.
One of Kentucky’s three close wins was a 77-74 victory over Vanderbilt at Rupp Arena on Jan. 5.
Vandy’s Scotty Pippen Jr., Dylan Disu and Jordan Wright each scored 18 that night. Pippen added eight assists and Disu — the SEC’s leading rebounder at 8.4 per game — had 10 rebounds as Vandy led for much of the second half but couldn’t close.
Vanderbilt generally goes as Pippen goes. The Commodores were 7 1/2-point underdogs Saturday at Mississippi State, but Pippen nailed three 3s in the first 2:11 to get Vandy off to a hot start.
“This was just a huge win for us,” coach Jerry Stackhouse said Saturday. “With all the noise that was going around, our guys just came in and locked in and kept their foot to the metal of what we’re trying to build and what we’re trying to do. I’m super proud of … their effort on the defensive boards against (Mississippi State).”
Pippen had nine assists to four turnovers against MSU. He had 23 points, seven assists and just one turnover in Vandy’s other SEC victory, a 93-81 win over South Carolina on Jan. 30.
Erratic seniors Max Evans and Clevon Brown also have made a difference in wins. Evans had 20 against MSU and 29 vs. South Carolina.
Brown, who has missed six games with various ailments, was sidelined in Lexington. But he followed a five-block game against Auburn (Feb. 9) 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’d played this year entering the MSU game.
Kentucky has won the past nine games in the series.
–Field Level Media