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Davis ups the degree of difficulty in Vanderbilt win

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Anthony Davis had 28 points, missing just one of his 11 shots, as UK clinched the outright SEC title on Saturday against Vanderbilt. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Anthony Davis had 28 points, missing just one of his 11 shots, as UK clinched the outright SEC title on Saturday against Vanderbilt. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Anthony Davis thrust himself into Player of the Year contention by mastering the art of the easy (for him anyway) play.

He blocked shots at a record-setting pace, scored on put backs and dunked every lob pass within three feet of the rim, leaving it to his talented teammates to drive to the hoop and shoot from the outside.

Now, Davis is making things a little harder on himself.

Davis scored 28 points on 10-for-11 shooting as No. 1 Kentucky (28-1, 14-0 Southeastern Conference) defeated Vanderbilt (20-9, 9-5 SEC) 83-74 as the Wildcats clinched their 45th SEC title outright.

Each game, it seems that John Calipari is putting Davis in new situations and asking him to expand his game. On Saturday afternoon, he took more than a few steps forward.

"I don't know what (the coaches are) doing, but it was a great day for me," Davis said with a smile.

The freshman tallied just two points via his beloved dunk.  He drilled six jumpers, eight free throws, two layups and one tip-in en route to his career-high scoring performance.

From his first basket, it was clear that this was going to be a different kind of game for Davis. Early in the first half, he received the ball at the top of the key with Steve Tchiengang guarding him, driving from the 3-point line toward the rim. Tchiengang bumped him and as Davis fell to the ground, he flipped the ball off the backboard for an "and-one."

Due to All-Star Weekend, fewer NBA scouts were in attendance for the Kentucky-Vanderbilt game, but it was the kind of play that demonstrated that Davis is the most unique combination of production and potential outside of the professional ranks.

It was also the kind of play that begged the question why Davis hasn't shown those parts of his game all season. Calipari had a tongue-in-cheek response to that line of thinking.

"I've been holding him back," Calipari joked. "I'm trying to get him to stay in school another year."

The real reason why Davis is unveiling new dimensions to his game on a daily basis is a combination of a couple different factors, the first of which is his burgeoning confidence.

"I think he's gotten more comfortable, especially with his shot," Darius Miller said. "He's really knocking down his shot now and we can really count on him to knock it down. Earlier in the year, he wouldn't have taken it, but I feel like he had it the whole time."

The other is his inexhaustible work ethic.

"I just try to work hard at it," Davis said. "I know what type of player I am. I know I'm capable of doing a lot of things. That's why I put in work. When it comes time in the game for me to do it, that's what I try to do."

Davis raised eyebrows when he arrived on campus this summer, saying he tried to pattern his game after the NBA's two-time defending leading scorer. Having only recently grown from a 6-foot-3 guard into a 6-foot-10 big man, Davis still saw himself as a swingman in a forward's body.

"I still do some of my guard workouts, basically like Kevin Durant does," Davis said in July. "He goes in the post, he shoots jumpers (and) he does dribble pull-ups. I really watch Kevin Durant a lot and try to (model) my game after his."

Early in the season, the Durant comparison seemed a bit far-fetched, at least in the immediate future, but with the way Davis was driving and hitting clutch shots for the Cats, his words from seven months ago look to be prophetic. On three separate occasions, Davis made plays for himself at the end of the shot clock, including one play in the final minutes that put an end to a 9-0 Vanderbilt run.

The Commodores had rallied from a 10-point deficit to close to within 66-65. UK had the ball, but with the shot clock running down and no apparent openings, it appeared Vanderbilt would get the ball with a chance to regain the lead. Instead, Davis rose for a fadeaway jumper 12 feet out. The shot hit nothing but net to start a 6-0 UK run.

"It seemed like every time they needed something (Anthony) Davis got it done for them, he was spectacular," Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said.

Kentucky would lead by at least five points the rest of the way.

"That's what great players do, they get those plays done at the end of the clock," Stallings said. "We played exceptional defense two or three times and they threw them in at the buzzer against us."

Teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist saw shades of another NBA star in Davis' performance on both ends of the floor: LeBron James. Davis shied away from that comparison.

"I wouldn't say LeBron," Davis said. "LeBron is LeBron. He's in his own category."

Davis may have shown some skills on the perimeter reminiscent of some of the stars of the game, but that doesn't mean he's eschewing the defense and rebounding that put him on the radar in the first place. He had 11 rebounds, five blocks and two steals on top of his scoring outburst, but still sees room for improvement.

"I think I just came out and played my game," Davis said. "There's some stuff I could have done better: being stronger with the ball, more rebounds, blocks. I played well, but there's always something you can do better."

Davis will likely be the only person in the country poking holes in his outing against Vanderbilt. Most others are too busy talking about his National Player of the Year credentials.

For Davis, the Naismith Award or the John R. Wooden Award would be nice, but he has another trophy in mind.

"It would be a great honor, especially for a freshman," Davis said. "I just want to win a national championship right now, that's my main focus. If I win it, it would be great but at the same time, my goal here is to win a national championship."

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