LEXINGTON, Ky (KT) — Avery Johnson didn’t leave Jarred Vanderbilt’s name off the scouting report. The Alabama coach made sure the Crimson Tide knew all about Kentucky’s freshman forward and his capabilities.
“We had a couple of stars by his name,” Johnson said. “I know everybody talks about Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and what they can do offensively, but in games like this, you need a utility guy.”
Vanderbilt was just the player Kentucky needed at the right time and he came through with the Wildcats in desperation mode.
The freshman forward did it all for the Wildcats and was active on both ends of the floor. Vanderbilt played a big role in Kentucky’s 81-71 victory over Alabama, ending the Wildcats’ four-game losing streak that dropped them out of the Top 25 and left many doubting whether the team had enough determination to make a run in the postseason.
Although not out of the danger zone with five games remaining in the regular-season, Johnson said the Wildcats are capable of doing some big things in the postseason.
“They’re still a dangerous team,” Johnson said. “Having the depth and length and size that they have on there team (is a big plus). It’s just a matter of if they can make up some boards. We did a pretty good job of defending at the 3-point-line, but they beat us up on the boards.”
Vanderbilt scored a career-high 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds and it was his presence on the glass that set the tone for Kentucky’s dominating performance on the boards. The Wildcats edged the Crimson Tide 44-27 on the glass and collected 20 offensive boards, including a team-high five by Vanderbilt.
“It was mental,” Vanderbilt said. “It was like, we are going to kill the boards. That was our mindset going into the game and I told the guards if they can get it up (the court), obviously trying to make it. If not, we are coming right there for the putback.”
Vanderbilt made some shots down the stretch, giving him more confidence to shoot.
“I saw a couple of them drop,” he said. “That obviously boosts your confidence. I missed some early in the game, but I just kept playing and they ended up falling late in the game.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari compared Vanderbilt’s performance on the boards to former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who impacted teams with his energy and rebounding skills.
“I told him afterward he was a beast with what he did how he changed the game,” Calipari said. “There were some shots he tried to take and don’t shoot them if they’re not a dunk, layup or something he can easily make. Don’t force it, because everything else (he is) doing is great. It’s nice to have another passer on the floor and he’s a willing passer. … Be Dennis Rodman. He can guard everybody, rebound offensively, defensively and he can pass. He made his free throws.”
Vanderbilt doesn’t remember much about Rodman but knew enough to take the comment from Calipari as a compliment.
“I really didn’t watch him (Rodman) that much, but I hear he played hard and gave all effort,” Vanderbilt said. “I think he means the effort and rebounding (was comparable to Rodman) and just impacting the game.”
Gametracker: Kentucky at Arkansas, 9 p.m., Tuesday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM, WBUL.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.