NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) John Wall sank a pair of free throws with 20 seconds left and had a big blocked shot to send No. 2 Kentucky to a 58-56 win over No. 17 Vanderbilt on Saturday night.
“Somebody steps up,” DeMarcus Cousins said of his teammate Wall, who had 13 points. “Maybe he doesn’t score 20-plus points, he still is going to make key plays down the stretch, which helps the team.”
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Kentucky (26-1, 11-1 SEC), which beat Vanderbilt 85-72 on Jan. 30, grabbed a two-game lead over the Commodores in the SEC East and dealt them their first home loss this season. It was the first time the Wildcats swept the regular season series since 2005.
Wall’s free throws gave the Wildcats a 57-53 lead, but John Jenkins answered with a 3-pointer to pull Vanderbilt (20-6, 9-3) within a point.
Kentucky’s Eric Bledsoe missed a pair of free throws, but Wall responded by blocking a 3-pointer by Jenkins on the other end and grabbing the ball.
“He just fought his way,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said of Wall. “That will to win, refuse to lose.”
He made one of two free throws for a two-point lead with 2.5 seconds to play, and the Commodores had one more chance.
A.J. Ogilvy caught a long in-bounds pass by Darshawn McClellan, but his runner in the lane bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
“It was set up for A.J. to take the ball and for me to sprint to the basket, so I could lay it in,” Vanderbilt’s Jeffery Taylor said. “It just didn’t work out.”
Cousins led Kentucky with 19 points and Patrick Patterson chipped in 13.
Taylor scored 17 points for Vanderbilt, which was a woeful 2 for 20 from 3-point range.
The Wildcats relied on their power in the paint, but the Commodores never let them get too comfortable.
Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang both fouled out with more than 5 minutes remaining trying to disrupt Cousins and Patterson inside. Ogilvy picked up his fourth foul with 10:11 left.
“It was very physical, hard-fought, tough game,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “There wasn’t any backing down going on.”
Vanderbilt, the SEC’s most prolific free-throw shooting team, used free throws to keep up with the Wildcats, and a pair by Taylor with 6:08 to go gave the Commodores a 49-45 lead, their largest of the game.
It didn’t last long. Thanks to some free throws by Cousins, a layup by Bledsoe and a 3-pointer by Patterson, Kentucky scored the next eight points to grab a 53-49 lead with 2:57 left.
The Commodores made a few costly mistakes on defense that gave Kentucky some easy points. The Wildcats turned Vanderbilt’s 15 turnovers into 19 points.
It was Kentucky’s second close call in as many games after pulling out an 81-75 overtime win at Mississippi State on Tuesday.