“The thing about John is that he is not a standstill shooter. He’s incredibly efficient at what he does and has really improved his game. He does not really force things. He makes big shots and is really special,” South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said.
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings says Jenkins has added a new dimension recently.
“He is a terrific shooter, but he has been going to the basket more,” Stallings said.
Jenkins has gone to the foul line 27 times in the last three games after going 6-for-6 in Wednesday’s 59-48 win over South Carolina when he scored 21 points to hep the Commodores (20-8, 9-4 Southeastern Conference) win their 20th game for the seventh time in the last nine years. As a team, Vandy was 23-for-26 at the foul line against South Carolina.
Stallings says Jenkins’ more productive play recently could be due to the sense of urgency teammates have developed about the season. Vanderbilt is in third place in the SEC.
“Maybe our other guys are doing a better job figuring out he and (Jeffery) Taylor needs the ball as much as possible. John has done what he has done all along. He’s a great cutter and has great stamina. The rest of the guys have just done a better job creating opportunities for him,” Stallings said.
Kentucky coach John Calipari is just as impressed with Vanderbilt now as he was before his team beat them. He said he thought he was watching a “top five team” play when he saw video of Vanderbilt’s big win atMississippi.
“Vandy is one of the better teams in the country, I¿believe, and knows how to win,” Calipari said.
Horn can vouch for that after South Carolina was held to a season-low in points at Vanderbilt. Festus Ezeli added 14 points and blocked four shots for Vanderbilt and Lance Goulbourne added 12 points.
“Vanderbilt is one of the elite teams in the league. Their two leading scorers (Jenkins and Taylor) are so consistent. They are very dangerous because of the amount of people who can shoot and they have a tremendous post presence in Ezeli. One thing that has gone overlooked is that they are a very good defensive team. They are right behind Kentucky in terms of field goal percentage defense,” Horn said.
Horn says Vanderbilt’s “great length” is the key on defense.
“They can switch on ball screens and guard the perimeter with guys 6-7 or 6-8. Length is a major attribute. Because of their length, they don’t get out of position. They create a lot of problems for you,” the South Carolina coach said.
Taylor is averaging 17.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game and hitting 46.5 percent from 3-point range despite scoring a season-low four points against South Carolina. Kentucky coach John Calipari remains a Taylor fan.
“He was a very good player in our league last year, and I grabbed him after our game (in Nashville) and told him, ‘You’re 10 times better than you were last year,’ and I meant that. He makes shots. Around the rim he’s not shying away. He’s passing the ball better. His skills have improved. They’re a veteran team, they have size,” Calipari said.
Kentucky had a 36-23 halftime lead at Vanderbilt before the Commodores opened the second half 10-for-14 from the field, including 6-for-7 on 3-pointers, and eventually took a 53-51 lead. However, Kentucky’s defense helped force Vandy to miss its final nine shots and Darius Miller, as he did at Mississippi State in Tuesday’s comeback win, made key plays to spark the victory.
Fox believes the Commodores have a “complete team” that can challenge anyone, including Kentucky.
“They have a lot of pieces to the puzzle. Excellent shooting, interior play, good defense. They enjoy sharing the ball. It would not surprise me to see them playing in the Final Four,” the Georgia coach said.
Stallings knows how good Kentucky is, though. No current Vanderbilt player has won at Rupp Arena and the Vandy coach was impressed with Kentucky’s comeback win at Mississippi State.
“I watched their game against Mississippi State and that second half was about the most impressive thing I've seen in college basketball this year,” Stallings said. “They were absolutely terrific and really showed why they are the program and the team that they are. There aren't many teams that could have done what they did that night and I was extremely impressed."