John Calipari is running out of adjectives to describe freshman forward Anthony Davis.
“After the game, I just told everybody they did what they did and how good (they were),” Calipari said following UK’s 83-74 win versus Vanderbilt. “I said (to Davis), ‘You were pretty good, too.’ The whole team started laughing.”
Davis scored a career-high 28 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked five shots to lead UK to the win, which clinched the programs’ 45th Southeastern Conference championship.
“I just tried to come out and play hard,” Davis said. “Coach Cal told us prior to the game we were all looking sleeping, not ready to play. I just didn’t want to be that guy who proved him right.”
Vanderbilt jumped out to a 15-12 lead with 12:04 left in the first half before UK rallied to stretch its lead to as much as eight. The Commodores closed the half on a 13-4 run to take a one-point lead into the locker room.
“I looked at my staff and I said, ‘You know, I’d like to let this one go — the way they started — to prove a point,” Calipari said. “I’m about to let this one go, and then I said, I can’t. I just don’t have that in me.”
Davis scored on UK’s first possession of the second half to give the Wildcats the lead back for good. Vanderbilt pulled within one point on three difference occasions in the second half and tied the game once but could never get over the hump.
“Seemed like every time they needed to do something, Davis got it done for them,” said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings. “He was spectacular.”
Davis finished at 10-11 from the field an 8-9 from the free throw line.
“He really carried us today,” said senior guard Darius Miller. “He did a great job keeping us in the game on the offensive and defensive end: blocking shots, coming up with tough rebounds. He did most of the work tonight.”
Freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist even compared Davis to one of the best players in the NBA.
“He’s like a Lebron (James),” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “On defense and on offense, he’s just a monster.”
After struggling for the first 30 minutes, Miller once again came alive to help the Wildcats pull away down the stretch. He converted his first basket with 9:59 left in the game and then scored seven points as part of an 11-2 UK run.
With UK leading by five and less than a minute remaining on the clock, Miller was able to break the Vanderbilt press and find sophomore forward Terrence Jones for a dunk.
“Coach keeps talking about our will to win,” Miller said. “I feel like we all focus in at the end and do a good job to come out with w’s.”
Davis was joined in double-figure scoring by freshman point guard Marquis Teague, who scored 16 points and tallied six assists, and Jones, who scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds. Kidd-Gilchrist finished with eight points and eight rebounds, and Miller and sophomore guard Doron Lamb each scored nine points.
“They play together, they play off of one another, they make easy plays defensively, they are talking more,” Calipari said. “But we just have to have everybody ready to go to war, every game. We don’t have many left.”
Calipari said his team was proud to win another SEC title, but they still have their eyes set on a bigger goal.
“Every game we play, it’s all about seeding (for the NCAA tournament),” he said. “We are just playing for that. I mean, we have won over the years a lot of conference championships and tournament championships, but I’m telling you…that isn’t what we’re playing for.”
Photos by Mark Boxley.