NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — John Calipari is waiting for his young Kentucky Wildcats to take charge on the floor and grow up. The faster the better for the meticulous coach.
Malik Monk scored six points in the final 32 seconds, and No. 6 Kentucky remained unbeaten in the Southeastern Conference by holding off Vanderbilt 87-81 Tuesday night.
Calipari said he had to make calls every time down the floor for his Wildcats to get the right shots.
"We still don't trust each other because guys aren't doing their job defensively, what they're supposed to do," Calipari said. "We ran gaps, we didn't switch when we needed to, we didn't talk. That lack of trust makes you look timid. If at some point this year, this team is supposed to be what everybody thinks, then we better be empowered. It better be their team."
Kentucky (14-2, 4-0) came in having beaten its first three SEC opponents by at least 23 points, something the Wildcats hadn't done since the 1953-54 season. They looked ready to roll over Vanderbilt, scoring the first nine points of the game, before finding themselves in their tightest game at least in league play this season.
Calipari credited first-year Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew for having a very disciplined team. Vanderbilt had a season-low seven turnovers.
"That team did what they wanted against us," Calipari said. "They missed some open shots. Thank goodness they missed some open shots."
Vanderbilt (8-8, 2-2) closed to 83-81 on Jeff Roberson's putback with 17.9 seconds left. But the rally fizzled from there.
Monk, who hit Kentucky's last field goal with 32 seconds left, made two free throws with 17 seconds left. Vanderbilt's last shot, a 3 from Matthew Fisher-Davis, was off target with 9 seconds remaining, and Monk finished off the win with two more foul shots.
Isaiah Briscoe led Kentucky with 23 points, and De'Aaron Fox had 22. Monk finished with 18 points, and Edrice "Bam" Adebayo had 14.
"I think it was extremely important just to be able to show people that even if we're not out and running, we can execute in half-court, and that's what we did in the second half," Fox said.
Roberson, Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance each scored 19 points for Vanderbilt. Luke Kornet added 16.
The Wildcats got into early foul trouble that kept Monk and Fox on the bench for much of the first half.
Monk, the SEC's leading scorer, picked up his second foul with 16:54 left, followed quickly by Fox. They both went to the bench, and the Wildcats led only 45-41 at halftime.
Vanderbilt last led 53-51 on a three-point play by LaChance and stayed close despite the SEC's best shooters outside the arc hitting just 8 of 29 (27.6 percent).
"Usually, we knock those down but tonight they were going in and out for us," Drew said.
— Teresa Walker (@TeresaMWalker) January 11, 2017
Kentucky: Calipari's young Wildcats haven't been in many close games so far this season. They got into foul trouble, with five Wildcats finishing with three or more fouls. They also had their worst night shooting outside the arc, finishing just 1 of 9, though they shot 50.7 percent (34 for 67) overall.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores had been making 13.3 3s per game in SEC play. They struggled on a night when Memorial Gym had enough Kentucky blue inside to feel like a road version of Rupp Arena. They also missed too many layups and close shots. Fisher-Davis was 9 of 11 at the line but only 4 of 15 from the floor.
A fan hit a half-court shot at halftime to win a three-year lease on an Acura. He celebrated with a high-five from Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, who sat with Drew's father, Homer, behind the Vanderbilt bench. Harbaugh is in town for the AFCA convention.
— Paul Jones (@PJFOX17) January 11, 2017
Kentucky: The Wildcats host Auburn on Saturday afternoon.
Vanderbilt: Host in-state rival Tennessee on Saturday night.
Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter @TeresaMWalker