LEXINGTON, Ky. -- John Calipari admitted earlier this week that the grind of a long and challenging season has been giving him some anxious moments and interrupted sleep of late.
Kentucky's "Senior Night" game on Tuesday against Vanderbilt probably didn't do much to help, but the UK head coach likes what he's starting to see from his young team with March Madness approaching.
The No. 9 Wildcats rallied from a 19-point deficit to beat the resurgent Commodores 73-67 at Rupp Arena. It marked the biggest comeback of the Calipari Era and UK's largest since the 1997 season.
"That's how you've got to play basketball in March. You've got to fight and stick together," said Calipari, whose team also battled back from a 12-point hole on Saturday to beat Florida in a battle for first place in the SEC.
Asked what the most recent comeback showed about his team, sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe said: “We can handle adversity. This team has a lot of fight and not one time in the huddle any of us ever thought that we were going to lose the game. You know we all kept our heads high. Coach kept on encouraging us, and when it got down to the end, and it was time to really win, I think we all came together as a team.”
Freshman guard Malik Monk scored a game-high 27 points to help Kentucky turn back a Vanderbilt team that shot 45 percent from the field and made 11 3-pointers. The Cats also got 16 points from freshman center Bam Adebayo and 13 points from freshman point guard De'Aaron Fox in his return from a minor knee injury after sitting out Saturday's win over the Gators.
With the win, Kentucky (25-5, 15-2 SEC) clinched a share of its 48th SEC championship and the No. 1 seed in the league tournament. The Cats can claim the title outright with a victory over Texas A&M on Saturday in the regular-season finale.
Vanderbilt (16-14, 9-8 SEC), which entered the game on a four-game winning streak, led for 33:52 on the night. The Dores held a 25-6 advantage midway through the first half, much to the dismay of a stunned crowd of 24,036.
The Cats had no choice but to apply trapping pressure in an attempt to break up the Commodores' offensive rhythm, and it helped them get back in the game. UK scored 21 points off 18 Vanderbilt turnovers.
"I think when things started to slip away is when they picked up their pressure," Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. "I think we had 18 turnovers, and I think they had 17 points off turnovers in the second half, and we couldn’t get back and get 5-on-5 defense. Kentucky is probably the best transition team in the country."
"We were trying to get into their clock by pressing, trapping, scramble so they didn't have 30 seconds to move the ball around," Calipari said. "... I said we're not going to win this game unless we get into the clock. And I thought the guys performed."
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the game...
WHAT WE LIKED:
Kentucky has demonstrated the "fight" in its last two games that it didn't have earlier in the season when UCLA and Kansas walked out of Rupp Arena with rare road wins in the venue. It feels like a lot of the individual talent is starting to gel with tourney time approaching. Malik Monk is racking up huge scoring nights, but doing it by attacking the basket more often and getting to the free-throw line. Bam Adebayo has become the steady inside presence on both ends of the floor and has dominated the glass. Isaiah Briscoe bounced back from his mini-funk to deliver a more characteristic 7-7-6 line against the Dores. And Derek Willis, despite making only one shot on the night -- a huge 3-pointer with 4:47 remaining to give UK its first lead of the game at 59-57 -- contributed mightily with a team-high eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Earlier this season, an off-night offensively may have prevented him from stuffing the stat sheet the way he did.
Malik Monk, Kentucky -- It's hard to go against a guy that keeps racking up points at a record-setting pace for the Cats. Even though his long-range jumper wasn't connecting like it was Saturday against Florida, Monk showed that he's been listening to Calipari by using his tremendous athleticism to get into the lane, and -- more often than not -- convert a bucket or get to the line. He's 32 of 36 from the line over the last five games, including 19 of 21 in the wins over Florida and Vanderbilt.
BY THE NUMBERS:
1st - Ever "Senior Day" marriage proposal, executed successfully by UK forward Derek Willis during the pregame ceremony.
3 - UK seniors (Dominique Hawkins, Mychal Mulder, Willis) win in their final game at Rupp Arena. They started and contributed 10 points and 10 rebounds to the victory.
5 - SEC championships for UK in eight years under John Calipari.
20 - Points for UK's Malik Monk in the second half.
58 - Percent shooting (15 of 26) for the Cats in the second half.
1997 - Kentucky's last win after trailing by 19 or more points, coming back from 22 down in a game at Vanderbilt.
"We played a team, that, again, is playing out of their minds right now. That's an NCAA tournament team. I don't care what you say. They've got the No. 1 schedule in the country. The No. 1 schedule in the country. They've got us and they've got another game with Florida, and that will be the No. 1 schedule. They were No. 2 before today. I imagine they'll be No. 1 now.." -- UK head coach John Calipari making his pitch for Vandy as an NCAA Tournament team.
Kentucky returns to action on Saturday at Texas A&M in the regular-season finale. Tipoff is slated for noon ET on CBS.