Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
By GARY B. GRAVESLEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Malik Monk scored 20 points in the second half, including 10 in the final 3:40, as No. 9 Kentucky rallied from a 13-point deficit and held off Vanderbilt 73-67 on Tuesday night to clinch a share of the Southeastern Conference regular season title.
After trailing by as many as 19 points in the first half, the Wildcats, who overcame the largest deficit under John Calipari, were still down 47-34 with 13:51 remaining. They clamped down defensively and gave their shooters chances to contribute and earn a hard-fought victory. Monk thrived the most, making a go-ahead 3 with 3:40 left before adding another long-range shot with 49 seconds left for 69-62 lead.
The freshman guard then made four free throws in the final 21 seconds to finish with 27 points for Kentucky (25-5, 15-2). Bam Adebayo added 16 points and De’Aaron Fox had 13 after a one-game absence with a knee injury.
“Well we didn’t play desperate to start the game and we played desperate in the second half,” Calipari told ESPN.
“All you want to see your team do is fight and then stay together and they stayed together. These are all great games for this young team. I hate to go through it. I’m sweating, I ruined another suit but you gotta go through this stuff to get ready for March.”
Luke Kornet had 21 points and Joe Tove added 15 for Vanderbilt (16-14, 9-8), which made 11 3-pointers but had its four-game winning streak stopped.
“We’re getting better,” Calipari said. “I’m just happy.”
BIG PICTUREVanderbilt: The SEC’s best 3-point shooting team showed its strength often, making 6 of 16 in the first half including four straight during one stretch for a 25-9 lead. But the Commodores went cold for several stretches in the second half and couldn’t stop Kentucky’s momentum once it got the lead.
Kentucky: The Wildcats trailed 30-24 at halftime despite 31 percent shooting, including 2 of 10 from long range. They were much better in the second half, hitting 15 of 26 to finish 44 percent overall. They forced 18 turnovers and outrebounded the Commodores 33-28 on Senior Night for Derek Willis, who proposed to his girlfriend before the game, Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder.
It took everything Kentucky had to rally, and it might be enough to keep the Wildcats in the Top 10.
UP NEXTVanderbilt: Hosts No. 12 Florida on Saturday in season finale, seeking a season sweep of the Gators. The Commodores won 68-66 on Jan. 21.
Kentucky: Visits Texas A&M on Saturday in regular season finale. It’s the first meeting between the schools since the SEC Tournament championship won by the Wildcats in overtime.
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.