NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Kentucky coach John Calipari watched his Wildcats fall behind by as many as 14 points in the first half and enter the locker room down with their biggest deficit of the season on the road at Vanderbilt.
No yelling. No tirade. Calipari only told his Wildcats to start throwing the ball inside to Nick Richards.
Tyrese Maxey scored 25 points, and 12th-ranked Kentucky rallied from their biggest halftime deficit this season to beat Vanderbilt 78-64 Tuesday night.
“The whole point of this is them learning about themselves,” Calipari said. “And I said, ‘They made eight 3s guys, and you missed five 1-foot shots. This is going to be what the score is.'”
Ashton Hagans backed up his coach.
“He was real calm,” Hagans said of Calipari. “He wanted us to work it out altogether and talk on it. You know, we came out there and just we were the aggressor in the second half and we were just trying to get the win.”
The Wildcats (19-5, 9-2) did that to keep a piece of the lead atop the Southeastern Conference standings with Auburn and LSU. The Wildcats also won their eighth straight over Vanderbilt, though this was the fifth time in this streak that they’ve had to rally from a double-digit deficit after clawing back to a 36-27 deficit at halftime.
Immanuel Quickley also had 18 points, Nick Richards had 12 and Hagans finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds in Calipari’s 400th career game at Kentucky.
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Vanderbilt (9-15, 1-10) was looking to make Kentucky the second straight ranked team to come into Memorial Gym and lose within the past week after the Commodores upset then-No. 18 LSU.
“It’s just a matter of want-to,” first-year coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “Once they got back into the game, they kind of sensed that we were on our heels they took it up a notch. We’ve got to find a way to battle adversity and still be able to find that next level. I think that’s just part of our growth.”
Saben Lee led Vanderbilt with 20 points. Dylan Disu had 12 points and 10 rebounds, Scotty Pippen Jr. had 13 and Maxwell Evans 10.
Kentucky looked like a different team in the second half. The Wildcats finally took their first lead on a Maxey layup with 11:16 left at 48-46 during a 24-4 run. Richards’ dunk capped the spurt with Kentucky up 59-48 with 6:11 to go.
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The Commodores pulled within 62-57 with 4:17 left after Jordan Wright stole the ball on the inbounds play. Quickley answered with consecutive 3s to push Kentucky’s lead back to double digits.
Vanderbilt ranks fourth in the SEC shooting (33%) from 3-point range, and the Commodores opened with Pippen hitting a 3 to put the Commodores ahead. Four others made at least one 3 as Vanderbilt shot better outside the arc than Kentucky from the floor. Lee hit Vanderbilt’s eighth 3 of the half to put the Commodores up 34-20, and he added a pair of free throws with 3:51 to match that 14-point lead.
Vanderbilt then went cold and didn’t score again the rest of the half. Kentucky wasn’t much better. Maxey’s jumper with 3:12 to go the Wildcats’ last field goal of the half, but Quickley made three free throws with 35.4 seconds left for a 36-27 halftime deficit that was Kentucky’s largest this season.
Kentucky: The Wildcats came in second in the SEC and 15th in the country defending against the 3, allowing opponents to shoot nearly 29% outside the arc. They just couldn’t slow down Vanderbilt in the first half as the ‘Dores shot 47.1% (8 of 17). That changed in the second half as the Wildcats held Vandy to just 3 of 11 from 3-point range. … The Wildcats outrebounded Vandy 43-32 and also had a 40-20 scoring edge in the paint.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores are playing without the SEC’s leading scorer in Aaron Nesmith, lost after the SEC opener, with Clevon Brown also out with injury. Stackhouse has been getting production from everyone on his roster, including a 3-pointer from walk-on Braelee Albert in building that big lead.
Calipari said the big difference for Kentucky was how Maxey played through contact and finished off shots rather than heaving up one-handed attempts once bumped. Maxey was 10 of 17.
“For the first time this year, Tyrese Maxey played with a toughness to win versus just play basketball,” Calipari said. “First time this year. So you have to understand. I’ve been all over this and all over him and not settling, so that was a good sign.”
Kentucky hosts Ole Miss on Saturday.
Vanderbilt starts a two-game road swing Saturday at Florida.