Tshiebwe has career-high 30 as No. 18 Kentucky routs Vandy
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — John Calipari has one quibble with his 18th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats.
He’d like to see them finish what they start.
Oscar Tshiebwe scored a career-high 30 points and had 13 rebounds as Kentucky routed Vanderbilt 78-66 on Tuesday night for its second straight win. The final score was only that close because the Wildcats missed their final seven shots after taking their biggest lead of the game at 28 points.
“We let go of the rope, and we’ve got to get better at that,” Calipari said.
The Wildcats (13-3, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) won their 11th straight in the series, and Calipari improved to 22-4 against Vanderbilt with his 797th overall victory.
Tshiebwe came in leading the nation in rebounding and second in double-doubles; this was his 12th. He became the first Kentucky player with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in a game since Patrick Patterson on Dec. 22, 2008, against Tennessee State.
“Never had a dream about scoring 30 points in a game,” Tshiebwe said. “It just happened. The team, they’re helping me, they look for me down there. … It was good to finish with 30 points, but I have the ability down in the post to finish, that’s what helped me. And I’m making free throws. That was a good thing.”
Calipari called Tshiebwe one of the hardest-working players he’s coached.
“His body is so big, he’s a terrific screener on ball screens,” Calipari said. “You can say what you want. When you’re 255 (pounds), you know, it’s a tough thing.”
TyTy Washington Jr. added 15 points for Kentucky.
Vanderbilt (9-5, 1-2) lost its second straight. The Commodores’ first two SEC games were decided by a combined three points, and Kentucky swept last season’s series by total of seven points.
Scotty Pippen Jr., the SEC’s leading scorer, nearly matched his average with 17 points by halftime. He finished with 32. But junior Jordan Wright was held scoreless for the first time this season after averaging 12.7 points a game for Vanderbilt. Trey Thomas added 14 for the Commodores.
With 7-footer Liam Robbins sidelined by a foot issue, Vanderbilt struggled to defend Tshiebwe. Coach Jerry Stackhouse called the 6-foot-9 Tshiebwe a “handful.”
“Hat’s off to him,” Stackhouse said. “He had a great game putting the ball in the basket, being really aggressive on the boards. It was his night.”
Vanderbilt never got closer than a tie at 22 after an 11-0 run early.
Kentucky answered Vandy’s run with 14 straight points, pushing the lead back to double digits. Stackhouse, now 1-7 against AP Top 25 teams, slammed a clipboard during a timeout.
Tshiebwe scored five of the final seven points as Kentucky led 41-27 at halftime.
The Wildcats led by as much as 78-50 with 6:14 left. The only thing that kept Vandy from allowing a season high in points was finishing the game on a 16-0 run.
Enough Wildcats fans filled Memorial Gym that it felt a bit like Rupp Arena South, especially when they chanted “Go Big Blue” repeatedly.
Commodores fans weren’t happy students weren’t allowed at this game with university officials limiting in-person activities until Jan. 24 amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. Plenty of Kentucky blue sprinkled the student section that had gold shakers at each seat waiting to be used.
Kentucky: The Wildcats rested point guard Sahvir Wheeler, who remains day to day after hurting his neck a week ago in their loss at LSU. The junior wasn’t needed, giving him more time to rest up before Saturday’s home game with Tennessee. … Davion Mintz, the Wildcats’ leading scorer last season, made his first start this season and finished with nine points. … The Wildcats shot 50% from 3-point range (6 of 12) and dominated on the boards 42-26.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores came in 23rd in turnovers forced and 42nd in scoring defense, holding opponents to 62.4 points a game. They forced only nine turnovers, four in the final 6:14 with the game decided.
Stackhouse hopes to have Robbins available when Vanderbilt visits Kentucky on Feb. 2. “Hopefully next time we see them, he’ll be a part of the mix and we’ll see what happens when that’s the case,” Stackhouse said.
Kentucky returns home to host No. 22 Tennessee on Saturday.
Vanderbilt visits Georgia on Saturday.
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By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer