NASHVILLE – One and done took on a whole new meaning for Kentucky on Friday night in the SEC Tournament.
Needing one more victory to ensure an opportunity to defend their national championship, the Wildcats were pummeled 64-48 by Vanderbilt in the league tourney quarterfinals at Bridgestone Arena.
Vanderbilt (16-16) had lost a pair of close games to Kentucky during the regular season – 60-58 in Nashville and 74-70 in Lexington – but was hardly challenged on this night. The Commodores shot 50 percent from the field, hit 8 of 17 from beyond the 3-point arc and knocked down 10 of 11 free throw attempts. They also held UK to 35 percent from the field in perhaps their best all-around performance of the season.
"I think every season we begin by saying we would like to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year, and I think it's safe to say this team is doing that right now," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "And I couldn't be any more proud of our players, because we were not a very good team two, three months ago, and that team that I watched play tonight looked like a pretty doggone good team to me."
“We laid an egg,” UK coach John Calipari said, “but Vandy played really well. Let’s give them credit, too. They played better than us. They played way more aggressive.”
Kentucky (21-11) must now wait until Sunday night to learn its NCAA Tournament fate. The Wildcats were considered among some national analysts’ “last four in” category prior to the Vanderbilt loss, but their fate will likely be determined by other “bubble” teams’ performances over the next two days.
Vanderbilt’s only path to the big dance is to win the SEC Tournament, something it looked capable of doing on Friday. Dai-Jon Parker led a balanced scoring attack for the Commodores with 12 points. Fellow guard Kevin Bright followed with 11, while backcourt mates Kedren Johnson and Kyle Fuller each added 10.
The Commodores led 37-23 after shooting 59 percent from the field in the first half, then hit their first five shots of the second half to extend the margin to 48-27.
Kentucky gave the overwhelmingly pro-blue crowd a glimmer of hope with a 10-0 run midway through the second half, but quickly surrendered five straight points to Vanderbilt on a goaltending basket allowed to Johnson and a second-chance 3-pointer by Bright. Oddly, the Cats had made their run using a zone defense, but came out of it prior to the Commodores' five-point spurt.
"We had no choice," Calipari said without offering much more by way of explanation.
Trailing by 14 at the 10-minute mark, the Wildcats had four consecutive possessions with an opportunity to draw closer, but Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein each missed the front end of a bonus free throw situation, Ryan Harrow missed a layup and Archie Goodwin was errant on a wide-open 3-point attempt.
The Commodores countered with two free throws by Johnson and a 3-pointer by Sheldon Jeter with 5:58 remaining to squash any fleeting thoughts of a UK comeback.
“We had our chances,” Calipari said. “… We’re ready. Here we come. But, again, three straight breakdowns. Lack of discipline. Lack of toughness. It’s been that way all year long.”
Kentucky got 12 points from Goodwin and 10 from sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer, but very little from the rest of its rotation. Alex Poythress tallied only six points and four rebounds. Harrow scored four, going 2-for-15 from the field and committing four turnovers with only one assist.
"One guy goes 2-for-15, missed 12 layups," Calipari said. "But then again, because it was a physical game, he was trying to flip (shots) and run away from contact. You can't play that way in this type of game.
"We couldn't even post the ball. It was too physical for us."
• Kentucky holds a 119-24 all-time record in the SEC Tournament, but has lost its last two games to Vanderbilt in the event.
• It marked the first time a Calipari-coached team has lost its opening game in a conference tournament since the 2004 season when he was at Memphis.
• UK is 2-10 this season when trailing at halftime.