The Vanderbilt Commodores were on the verge of a tremendous upset that could have solidified their chances for an NCAA Tournament bid, but proved unable to hold on to a second half double-digit lead, losing 73-67 to the ninth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats Tuesday night at Rupp Arena. The loss ended a four-game Vanderbilt win streak, but that wasn’t nearly the most bitter thing about the outcome.
Vanderbilt got off to a hot start, and at one point in the first half were up by 19. They still had a double-digit lead late in the second half. But with about 10 minutes remaining, Kentucky surged and then the Commodores couldn’t regain the advantage. Dominique Hawkins’ efforts that included getting an offensive foul, scoring and later getting a key offensive rebound sparked the Kentucky comeback.
Malik Monk had earlier been ripped by Kentucky coach John Calipari for poor shot selection. But he was unstoppable during the second half. Monk finished with 27 points, and his play also inspired Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox. Adebayo had 16 points, Fox 13, and that trio personally took charge and were largely responsible for the Kentucky victory. Still, Vanderbilt led until the 4:47 mark of the second half, when a three-pointer by Derek Willis gave them the lead for good. Luke Kornet led Vanderbilt with 21 points. But the Commodores also couldn’t overcome 18 turnovers, some of them during the Kentucky surge. Kentucky improved to 15-2 in the SEC, 25-5 overall, and are definitely in line for a number one seed, depending on their performance in the upcoming SEC Tournament next week in Nashville.
Vanderbilt dropped to 9-8 in the conference, and 16-14 overall. With another Top 25 team coming to town Saturday in Florida, their NCAA Tournament hopes took a hit. Most likely the Commodores will have to go deep into the SEC Tournament, and even then, anything less than the title doesn’t guarantee them a berth.
It does help however that their strength of schedule is among the conference’s and nation’s best in terms of non-league competition.