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Kentucky’s Jarred Vanderbilt could miss first weekend of NCAA Tournament

This is potentially big news for Arizona

Missouri v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If the Arizona Wildcats and Kentucky Wildcats do match up in the second round of the NCAA Tournament like many predict, UK could be without a key player.

Freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt is expected to miss the opening weekend of the tourney due to a sprained ankle, head coach John Calipari told the media Monday.

“He wants to play, but I just don’t see it right now, putting him in there and being comfortable about it,” Calipari said (via A Sea of Blue).

“He knows if he’s not able to go full bore, I’m not playing him — for him or us,” Calipari added. ”If he’s at 85-90 percent, I don’t think I play him — for him or us. He’s proven who he is as a player, but more importantly, anyone that steps on that court that can’t bring it, these tournament games are life and death and the other team is going to bring it.”

Fifth-seeded Kentucky opens tournament play Thursday in Boise against 12th-seeded Davidson. If UK wins that game, it would play Arizona on Saturday, assuming UA beats Buffalo.

Not having Vanderbilt against UA would be a crucial loss for Kentucky, considering how dominant UA’s frontcourt duo of Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic has been lately.

The 6-foot-9, 214-pound Vanderbilt is UK’s leading rebounder (7.9 rpg) and our friends at A Sea of Blue, SB Nation’s Kentucky site, deem him to be UK’s best defender. So he’s someone that could make life difficult for Ayton and/or Ristic, but obviously that can’t happen if he’s not healthy enough to play.

Vanderbilt has had trouble staying healthy all season. He missed the first 17 games of the season with a foot injury, then missed the SEC Tournament, which Kentucky won, because of this ankle injury.

Now he’s in jeopardy of missing the most important part of the season.

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire