No. 1 Wildcats escape Vandy

No. 1 Wildcats escape Vandy

February 12th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - College

NASHVILLE -- A few days before his top-ranked Kentucky basketball team was to travel to Vanderbilt, Wildcats coach John Calipari noted that his team might need a "challenge."

Saturday night inside the Commodores' often magical Memorial Gym, the Big Blue got one, coming from behind to win 69-63 for its 17th straight victory.

"They weren't going away, but we weren't going away, either," Calipari said after the Wildcats climbed out of a 63-61 hole with 4:10 to play in the Southeastern Conference showdown. Kentucky had let a 36-23 halftime lead disappear.

"This kind of environment is why we do what we do."

This kind of environment was a raucous crowd of 14,316 inside Memorial, plus a national television audience on ESPN, plus the network's "GameDay" crew.

"We had to manage our emotions and all the 'GameDay' stuff," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said after watching his team fall to 6-4 in the SEC and 17-8 overall. "But that's part of it. We played hard, but we didn't play smart until the final half."

Yet playing hard and smart in those final 20 minutes, they clawed back, leading 55-51 at one point.

But Kentucky finally took the lead for good on a 3-pointer from Doron Lamb, then increased that to 66-63 with 2:08 to play on two free throws by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Vanderbilt failed to score a point in the final 4:10, missing its final nine shots from the floor.

"Very disappointing," Stallings said.

John Jenkins led the Commodores in scoring with 15 points, followed by Jeffery Taylor, Festus Ezeli and Brad Tinsley with 13 each. Vanderbilt won the rebounding battle 38-35 but watched the Wildcats block 12 shots.

Lamb led Kentucky (25-1) with 16 points, followed by Anthony Davis with 15, Terrence Jones with 14 and Marquis Teague with 13.