Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings admitted playing host to both No. 1 Kentucky and ESPN’s College GameDay might have stoked up his team just a bit too much.
His senior forward, Jeffery Taylor, didn’t buy that.
“We're not little kids that get too excited and can't show up to play,” Taylor said. “We just couldn't get buckets there for that eight to nine-minute stretch.”
That costly first-half lapse led to a 13-point halftime hole. The Commodores climbed out of it and twice grabbed the lead over the final 20 minutes. The talented Wildcats, however, put on the clamps and sent Vanderbilt to a 69-63 loss on Saturday night at Memorial Gymnasium when they held the home team scoreless for the final four minutes.
“We just kind of come out of the gate, gassed out at the beginning, I think,” Stallings said. “We fought hard. We rebounded hard. They just made a couple more plays than we did. We’re very disappointed.”
Brad Tinsley scored Vanderbilt’s last four points capped by a jumper for a 63-61 lead with 4:08 left. Tinsley came up with a steal on the ensuing Kentucky possession but the Commodores (17-8, 6-4 SEC) failed to capitalize on that one or any remaining ones. They missed their final eight shots and Anthony Davis, the Wildcats' 6-foot-10 shot blocking specialist, collected the last two of his seven blocks.
Kentucky (25-1, 11-0) went ahead for good on Doron Lamb's 3-pointer with 3:18 left and won its 17th straight win — the longest current streak in the country.
“I thought for the most part we got pretty good shots the last four minutes or so,” Tinsley said. “They made some great defensive plays, some blocks here and there, being in the right place ... they just made some plays.”
Four players scored in double figures for Vanderbilt as John Jenkins had 15 and Taylor, Tinsley and Festus Ezeli each had 13.
Kentucky also had four players in double figures as Lamb had a game-high 16. Davis added 15 points, Terrence Jones scored 14 and Marquis Teague had 13 in addition to eight assists. Kentucky’s post players — Davis and Jones — had the edge inside as Vanderbilt was outscored 44-22 in the paint.
The Wildcats faithful in the sellout crowd of 14,316 witnessed Kentucky snap Vanderbilt’s four-game home win streak against top-ranked teams. They also silenced Vanderbilt supporters, some of whom had weathered the bitter cold in the morning to attend GameDay, which made its first trip to campus for a basketball game.
“It is hard to manage their emotions when all the GameDay stuff is going on,” Stallings said. “That’s really the only downside to it.”
The Commodores shot just 27.6 percent in the first half and scored a season-low 23 points. They scored 12 of the first 18 points in the second half, tied it on a Taylor 3-pointer with 11:58 to go and eventually led by as many as four, 55-51, after a pair of Ezeli free throws with 8:42 remaining.
“There were people that were out at five in the morning [lining up for GameDay] and I feel bad for them. I feel like we let our fans down [Saturday],” Taylor said. “Obviously, it was a great opportunity for us to come out and get a signature win, it is the last time I get to play Kentucky at home. And losing the game, I think we’re all competitors here and I feel like we felt like we had this game, we were up four points with eight minutes left in the second half, so it’s disappointing on a lot of fronts.”