Vanderbilt dims Kentucky's NCAA Tournament hopes

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 15, 2013 

NASHVILLE — On Friday night, Kentucky gave the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee a lot to chew on ... and spit out.

The Cats lost to Vanderbilt 64-48 in a game widely viewed as a must to solidify the team's chances of securing a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, UK got bounced from the Southeastern Conference Tournament by a double-digit margin for the first time since 2005 (and the sixth time ever). UK avoided its most lopsided loss in this event: a 70-53 defeat to Florida in the 2005 finals.

Kentucky, which fell to 4-4 without Nerlens Noel, remained winless away from Rupp Arena in his absence.

With Bridgestone Arena full of UK fans, it seemed like a road game for Vandy although it was played barely two miles from campus. As Coach Kevin Stallings predicted, UK fans would not affect his team.

The crowd repeatedly encouraged Kentucky, which got a break earlier in the day when another team on the so-called NCAA Tournament bubble, Tennessee, lost.

But UK fans here had plenty to be blue about.

The Cats lived down to Coach John Calipari's statement Thursday that the team's first game here would be the hardest.

Kentucky fell to 21-11. UK made only 18 shots (or one fewer than it scored in the first half against Vandy in Rupp Arena last month).

Archie Goodwin led UK with 12 points. Kyle Wiltjer added 10. Point guard Ryan Harrow suffered through a two-for-15 shooting night.

Vandy, which became only the second team to beat Kentucky in back-to-back SEC Tournaments (Alabama did it in 1982 and 1983), improved to 16-16.

Dai-Jon Parker led the Commodores with 12 points. Kevin Bright added 11. Kedren Johnson and Kyle Fuller chipped in 10 each.

Vanderbilt trailed for only 40 seconds in the first half en route to a 37-23 lead at intermission. That marked Kentucky's largest halftime deficit since the debacle at Tennessee (down 50-26) and must have sent a shudder through the mostly blue-clad crowd.

No Comeback Cats, Kentucky had a 2-9 record in games this season when trailing at halftime.

Kentucky's lowest-scoring first half since the 2011 Final Four loss to Connecticut featured nine-of-25 shooting. Point guard Ryan Harrow made only one of nine shots. When he charged with 38.1 seconds left in the half, Harrow hung his head as he headed to the bench.

The crowd gave Kentucky plenty of support. When Willie Cauley-Stein won the opening tap, a roar erupted.

But the UK fans had little to get excited about the rest of the half. The Cats fell behind for good on Rod Odom's driving shot with 12:42 left.

Kentucky's deficit steadily widened. Odom, who scored 38 points in the last two games, had nine in the first half. His three-pointer with 3:06 left suggested it was Vandy's night. The shot from the right corner hit high off the right side of the rim, then came back down on the back of the rim, bounced against the glass and nestled into the basket. That put the Commodores ahead 30-21.

Continuing the hot shooting from Thursday (12 of 28 from beyond the arc), Vanderbilt made five of eight three-point attempts in the half.

Meanwhile, Kentucky's 36-percent accuracy marked its worst first-half shooting since the Tennessee game, and represented a stark contrast to the 19-of-31 blitz inflicted on Vanderbilt in Rupp Arena North on Feb. 20.

UK had not won after trailing by such a margin at halftime since 2004. The Cats beat Louisville 60-58 (Patrick Sparks' three free throws in the final seconds) after trailing 32-16 at halftime.

Trailing by as much as 21 points early in the second half, Kentucky did not quit. The Cats switched to a zone defense, which helped keep Vandy scoreless for almost four minutes.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the Cats reeled off 10 straight points. Goodwin capped the run with a one-man fast break and ended with his flying dunk over fellow freshman Sheldon Jeter.

Suddenly, Vandy called time with 12:42 left. After the timeout, UK switched back to its signature man-to-man. Johnson drove to a basket (scoring on Cauley-Stein's goal tend). After UK went scoreless, Kevin Bright hit a three-pointer from the right side over UK's zone defense.

With Kentucky shooting the one-and-one with almost 10 minutes left, a comeback seemed plausible. But Alex Poythress and Cauley-Stein missed the front ends of one-and-ones within 34 seconds to blunt such thinking.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227 Twitter: @JerryTipton Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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