Vanderbilt put together one of their best games of the season, but it wasn't enough. The Commodores couldn't pull off a monumental road upset against #1 Kentucky and fell at Rupp Arena 83-74.
Vanderbilt gave the 'Cats a scare, but couldn't respond to their opponents' explosiveness, dropping their fifth SEC game of the season. The 'Dores hung around all day but Kentucky had an answer for every VU basket, responding with fast break points and baskets in bunches to prove why they're the top-ranked team in the country.
The 'Dores shot poorly early and were outrebounded handily, but were still poised to pull off the upset. Vandy took a one-point lead into the half despite a poor showing from leading scorer John Jenkins. Jenkins went just 1-7 from the field in a half where the Wildcats refused to give him any breathing room.
Jenkins heated up in the second half to shoot away a 10-point Kentucky lead and turn this one into a barnburner. The junior had four three-pointers in the frame to finish with 18 points, but it wasn't enough as the Wildcats' athleticism trumped Vanderbilt's experience in this rivalry game.
Marquis Teague abused the Commodores all day, getting into the lane and creating transition opportunities for Kentucky throughout the game. His ability to draw defenders and find the open man behind him led to easy UK baskets and ensured that the Wildcats wouldn't have to take many jumpers. However, the engine that drove the team's offense was a player normally known for his defense.
Anthony Davis did a bit of everything for Kentucky, finishing dunks at the rim and hitting jumpers to bail the team out of situations as the shot clock wound down. Every time Vanderbilt pulled close, the freshman seemed to have an answer, scoring at a mega-efficient rate and rousing the home crowd each time he touched the ball. He finished with a career high 28 points and added 11 rebounds and six blocks in a player of the year performance.
Vanderbilt had multiple chances to get back in the game late, but missed opportunities doomed the Commodores. Jeffery Taylor missed a pair of key free throws that led to a four-point swing and a six-point Kentucky lead that the Wildcats wouldn't give up with 2:43 remaining. It was another example of this team fading in the clutch, and it cast a pall over an otherwise strong performance from a veteran team that clearly still needs to grow.
The 'Dores will have a chance to recover with a home contest against the #11 Florida Gators on Tuesday. A win there would give the team a boost up the NCAA Tournament's S-Curve and likely secure a first-round bye in the SEC tournament.
While today's loss was discouraging, Vanderbilt got some big performances against the top-ranked team in the country. Lance Goulbourne in particular played his heart out, coming up with four steals and working hard to foul out Terrence Jones after Jones had wrecked him in their first meeting this season. If this team can play that way in March, they'll have the horses to make a big run in the postseason.