LEXINGTON, Ky. – Thirty-three seconds of good defense wasn’t good enough – not against No. 1 Kentucky and national player of the year candidate Anthony Davis.
Vanderbilt nearly rallied from a 10-point, second-half deficit but the Wildcats continually beat the shot clock. Davis, who scored a career-high 28 points, twice drained buckets as the buzzer sounded in the last four minutes to send the Commodores home with an 83-74 loss on Saturday.
“Extremely deflating,” Vanderbilt forward Lance Goulbourne said. “We played 34 seconds of solid defense and they throw one in at the last second. It is pretty deflating, especially when you are trying to come back from a deficit like that.”
Kentucky (28-1, 14-0) swept the season series, picked up its 20th straight win, extended its 51-game home winning streak and wrapped up another Southeastern Conference championship – the 45th in school history – in front of 24,388 at Rupp Arena. The Commodores (20-9, 9-5) made the Wildcats work for it, though.
Trailing 66-56 with less than eight minutes, Vanderbilt rattled off nine straight points. Jeffery Taylor sparked the run with a driving layup for two of his team-high 19 points. John Jenkins, after scoring just three points in the first half, hit back-to-back 3-pointers. The SEC’s leading scorer had a chance to tie it at the 4:27 mark but his second of two free throws bounced off the rim.
Cue Davis and the last-second heroics.
With one second glowing on the shot clock, he sunk a fadeway jumper over 6-foot-11 Festus Ezeli for a 68-65 lead with 3:46 left. He then all but ended the game when, after Vanderbilt cut it to five, he got free to drain an open 18-foot jumper for a 75-68 advantage with 1:05 to go.
“That’s what great players do and really successful teams do – they get those plays done at the end of the clock,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. “You can’t play defense for 33 seconds; sometimes you have to play for 35. In some cases we played great defense and the ball went in any way. Then you have to just tip your cap to the guy who made the plays.”
Davis made plenty of them. The 6-foot-10 freshman accounted for 11 of Kentucky’s 36 rebounds – Vanderbilt had 29 – and, of course, rejected shots. The nation’s leader in blocks(139) had six against Vanderbilt.
But his offense was just as impressive. He scored 15 points before halftime and was 10-of-11 from the field, his only miss coming on a blocked shot by Ezeli. He scored in a variety of ways, making hook shots, layins, putbacks and jumpers.
“For a lot of it he just did whatever he wanted to do,” Ezeli said. “I didn’t really offer a lot of resistance.”
Ezeli finished with 15 points and six rebounds – all on the offensive end. Goulbourne added 11 points and Jenkins scored 15 of his 18 in the second half. The shooting guard was just 6-of-18 from the field and 4-of-9 from 3-point range.
Even with their perimeter threat struggling to find space and make shots, the Commodores led 37-36 at halftime thanks to a late free throw by Brad Tinsley. That was drastically different from two weeks ago when the teams met in Nashville and Vanderbilt fell behind by 13 at the break. Saturday marked just the sixth time all season Kentucky had trailed at halftime.
The Wildcats quickly jumped back on top. Fifteen seconds into the second half, Davis grabbed an offensive rebound, posted up Ezeli and hit a floater for a lead Kentucky never relinquished.
It was just one instance of the Wildcats’ domination in the paint, where they outscored Vanderbilt 50-32. The Wildcats also grabbed 10 offensive rebounds, which felt like more to the Commodores, who gave up 13 second-chance points.
Stallings expressed his disdain for his team’s rebounding, saying Davis was only blocked out twice. In both instances it was by his guards – freshman Dai-Jon Parker and Tinsley.
“Nobody else bothered to try to put a body on him,” Stallings said. “That’s disappointing when we’ve got some older guys that should understand that concept. That part was disappointing but he’s special. He’s different. He is a different kind of player.”