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3 takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s ugly win over Vanderbilt

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LEXINGTON — Kentucky basketball looked little like the team that pummeled a top-five Kansas team over the weekend, but the Wildcats overcame a sluggish performance in a 77-70 win over Vanderbilt Wednesday.

Super senior guard Davion Mintz led Kentucky with 21 points. Junior forward Keion Brooks posted his second consecutive 20-point performance with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting. Junior forward Oscar Tshiebwe posted his 16th double-double of the season with 11 points and 17 rebounds. They were joined in double figures by super senior guard Kellan Grady (12).

Kentucky led by as many as 16 points in the first half but allowed Vanderbilt to pull within one point with a 12-3 run to open the second half. UK scored the next eight points to gain some breathing room but played the rest of the game within 12 points.

Vanderbilt guard Scottie Pippen Jr. scored 33 points.

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Here is what you need to know about the win

Davion Mintz takes his turn to lead Kentucky

If Keion Brooks’ career-high 27 points in the blowout win at Kansas were not enough of a reminder that Kentucky can beat teams in a variety of ways, Mintz’s performance Wednesday pounded home the Wildcats’ impressive depth.

Mintz hit 6 of 11 shots and 4 of 7 3-point attempts. The performance marked the second time this season he scored at least 19 points in a game. It also ended a mini slump in which he converted just 6 of 36 shots across the last four games.

“We hope they have nightmares before they play us with the fact we’ve got so many guys that are capable and it’s hard to scout again,” UK assistant coach Chin Coleman said Tuesday. “Most teams you can put a few guys at the top of the scouting report and then you can worry about the relevant guys and try to keep the irrelevant guys irrelevant. Hopefully for us because we have so many guys that are capable of impacting that the game it’s tough for teams.”

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Kentucky’s Davion Mintz makes a basket against Vanderbilt’s Scotty Pippen Jr.Feb. 2, 2022

Lance Ware continuing positive trend

Tshiebwe was his normal self on the glass, totaling 16 rebounds, but Vanderbilt was able to rattle Kentucky’s Player of the Year candidate at times. Twice Tshiebwe was whistled for flagrant fouls after tussling with Vanderbilt’s Quentin Millora-Brown.

The second flagrant foul was also Tshiebwe’s fourth personal foul, sending him to the bench with 9:51 left in the game and Kentucky leading by only five points.

Over the next three minutes, sophomore forward Lance Ware made enough of an impact to keep Vanderbilt from pulling any closer with two blocks, one offensive rebound and one free throw. By the time Tshiebwe returned to the game at the 6:49 mark, Kentucky’s lead had actually grown to nine points.

“He’s now become one of the guys in the gym living in the gym,” Calipari said of Ware. “He’s one of those guys now. He’s building his own confidence.

“It’s not how much I play him. When he gets minutes, he’s confident he’s going to play well. He’s out there playing well: Rebounding, he fights, he talks, he’s smart. He’s one of the smartest basketball players we have.”

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Shaedon Sharpe watch continues

Since John Calipari opened the door for freshman guard Shaedon Sharpe, the former No. 1-ranked prospect in the class of 2022 who joined the team in January, playing this season, many fans had circled the Vanderbilt game as a likely night for his debut.

The thinking went that if Sharpe is to play this season Calipari would want to ease him into a game against one of Kentucky’s lesser opponents. With only three quadrant three games left on the schedule, Vanderbilt might be one of the few opportunities to do that.

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Wednesday’s game ended up being much closer than expected, but even when Kentucky led by 16 points in the first half it was little-used reserves Bryce Hopkins and Dontaie Allen who checked in for the final few possessions while Kentucky’s starting guards battled foul trouble. Kentucky’s game at South Carolina next Tuesday might be the last opportunity for Sharpe to ease into action if he is going to play this season.

Of course, with Kentucky’s primary guards all playing well, the need for Sharpe to play has decreased.

Email Jon Hale at jahale@courier-journal.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky basketball: Cats overcome sluggish performance vs. Vanderbilt

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