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When Tennessee guard Cameron Tatum hit a three-point basket to pull the Volunteers within two points with 30 seconds left in the game, the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team had a chance to answer an important question.
Had they learned their lesson from the end-game meltdown at Indiana?
“We knew they were going to try to shoot threes,” said freshman forward Anthony Davis. “That’s the only way they could come back. Twos weren’t going to help.”
Unlike at Indiana — when the players on the court failed to implement the strategy UK head coach John Calipari drew up during the final timeout — the Wildcats played perfect defense on Indiana’s final chance to extend the game to preserve a 65-62 win.
“The thing that we had is our young players had a will to win,” Calipari said.
UK was led in scoring by Davis, who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, and freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
The Wildcats held Tennessee scoreless for just more than six minutes during an 8-0 run to put the Cats up eight with less than one minute remaining in the game. The run was highlighted by a three-point basket from Kidd-Gilchrist.
“I bet you he didn’t know that he had missed a few shots before he shot the three,” Calipari said of Kidd-Gilchrist. “All he knew was that ball was going down.”
Tennessee hit two threes in the final minute of the game, but senior guard Darius Miller converted two free throws with 20 seconds left to clinch the win.
“We were kind of disappointed in our selves going into halftime,” Davis said. “We were down on the rebounding end, they were out-hustling us, fighting for loose balls, more tough, more physical. We went in the locker room — we had a talk — and said, ‘Man, we’re not losing this game. Lets go out here and lets be tougher, be more physical and lets go out here and win.”
UK trailed 34-28 at halftime and trailed by as much as eight in the second half.
“We got out-physicaled in the first half,” Calipari said. “Same guys got pushed, shoved, couldn’t come up with the ball and then were accepting it.
“If we want to be unique and special, we’re either going to get tougher, negate the physical play people are using on us, or we’re just going to be another team out there trying to win as many as we can.”
While UK failed to live up to Calipari’s demand for toughness for much of the game, the late-game run showed the Wildcats are capable, Davis said
“(In) crunch time, we really get into their bodies and not let them post us up so easily,” he said. “We’re definitely getting tougher.”
UK got little from Miller or sophomore guard Doron Lamb in the game. The duo combined for eight points on 2-11 shooting. Sophomore forward Terrence Jones also fouled out with 10 points and five rebounds.
“We need the other guys,” Calipari said of his veterans. “They’ve got to step up and ball.”
If UK has all its players performing at their best at the same time, they could be scary, Calipari said.
“If those guys will play more physical, they’ll be more aggressive offensively, they’ll make better plays,” he said. “Simple. Everything happens from physical play.”
While the Wildcats continue to look for the perfect performance, the team has learned a lot this week with come-from-behind road wins at Auburn and Tennessee, Davis said.
“We have a will to win,” he said. “We’re a great ball club. We never give up.”