Midway through the first half of Kentucky’s final home game of the season, it looked like the Wildcats were sleepwalking their way to ending a 27-game winning streak against SEC opponents at Rupp Arena. It’s been since 2014 that a league opponent has come into Lexington and walked out with a win, and when Vanderbilt led 25-6, you could tell it’s been a while since the home crowd had been in this position. 

The Wildcats were sloppy with the ball, got picked apart by Vanderbilt because of some defensive lapses early in the game and required the biggest comeback (19 points) since John Calipari took the job in order to finish the home season with a 73-67 win. 

“We didn’t play desperate to start the game, but we played desperate in the second half,” Calipari said. “They made every shot and we missed every shot. It happens in a game. All you want to see your team do is fight and stay together.

“Believe me, I hate to go through it. I’m sweating, I ruined another suit. But you’ve got to go through this stuff to get ready for March.” 

It was Senior Night for Dominique Hawkins, Mychal Mulder and Derek Willis, and already celebratory with a pregame engagement for Willis. While other NBA lottery picks have come and gone during the last four years, Hawkins and Willis have been there the whole time and will leave the program as part of the winningest senior class in the Calipari era. 

But while it was Senior Night on the floor, the win comes courtesy of Calipari’s star-studded freshman class. De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo are on pace to be the most productive freshman trio since John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, and when things got tight in the second half most of the offense was running through their hands. 

But it wasn’t all easy. The Commodores couldn’t miss coming out of halftime, shooting better than 80 percent in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Wildcats turned up the intensity on defense with 3/4-court pressure, but still struggled to chip away at the lead. 

When Kentucky finally got it going, the rest felt inevitable. It happened with a 10-1 run that took less than two minutes of game clock but lasted even longer as momentum built at Rupp Arena. The game was stretched out with some fouls and timeouts, Bam Adebayo started winning more battles inside and the Wildcats finally got the score tied 54-54. Then Willis hit a 3-pointer that brought the crowd to its feet and Monk followed with his first two triples of the game over the next couple of minutes. 

From there it was just playing out the clock and shooting free throws. 

Kentucky didn’t play great for much of the night, but the potency the Wildcats showed in the comeback should scare any team they draw in the NCAA Tournament