By Ron Wynn
The Vanderbilt Commodores rallied in the second half and came close, but ultimately fell to the Kentucky Wildcats 74-70 Wednesday night in Lexington.
It was Kentucky’s second game without injured center and defensive hub Nerlens Noel, but this time his replacement Willie Cauley-Stein had a superior game.
Cauley-Stein was awful against Tennessee, but he was dominant against Vanderbilt. He not only was a terror defensively (blocking two shots in the final minute and shutting down the lane most of the game), but he also hurt the Commodores on offense. Cauley-Stein had a career high 20 points, something totally unexpected. Archie Goodwin also had 16 points for Kentucky,
Kedren Johnson managed 17 for Vanderbilt, despite encountering more problems with his injured shoulder. He had to leave the game at one point following a drive to the basket when his shoulder was again partially dislocated. Rod Odom had 16, while Josh Henderson matched his career high with 13.
But the Commodores got so far behind, trailing at one point by 13, that when they did get close there was no room for error. They cut the lead to 61-59, but Julius Mays was left open on the wing and hit a three pointer to make it 64-59. Kyle Fuller answered for Vanderbilt with a three-pointer, making it 68-65 with 1:09 to play. That would be as close as Vanderbilt got the rest of the way. The teams exchanged foul shots over the last 60 seconds.
The Commodores’ three-point shooting heated up again, as they hit 45.5 percent from behind the arc (10 of 22), led by Odom’s four. But Cauley-Stein’s presence enabled Kentucky to outscore Vanderbilt 38-24 in the paint. He also had seven rebounds as the Wildcats controlled the boards 36-30.
It was Kentucky’s sixth straight win over Vanderbilt in Lexington. The Commodores haven’t won there since 2007. There were also a pair of ejections with 3:01 left. Vanderbilt’s Kevin Bright and Kentucky’s Carter Josephs were both tossed for leaving their team benches after a mild furor on the court following Henderson going down in a rebound scuffle. But the officials quickly separated the teams before anything happened.
Vanderbilt lost its ninth SEC game in 13 tries this season (10-15 overall). Their next game is Saturday on the road against Mississippi State. The 12:30 contest will be on WUXP-30. The Lady Commodores are at Florida tonight. Their game begins at 6 p.m. and airs on CSS.
Photo: Jim Brown, USA TODAY Sports