On a night when the shots just weren’t falling for No. 2 Kentucky, John Wall still managed to deliver another tight win for the Wildcats.
Vanderbilt limited Kentucky to a season-worst 35.8 percent shooting, but a pair of free throws and a clutch block by Wall in the final 20 seconds gave the Wildcats a 58-56 win over the No. 17 Commodores on Saturday night. "He just fought his way," Kentucky coach John Calipari said of Wall, who missed eight of his 11 shots and finished with 13 points. "That will to win, refuse to lose. You just do what you got to do."
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 since Jan. 25, 2009.
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It was Kentucky’s second close call in as many games after pulling out an 81-75 overtime win at Mississippi State on Tuesday.
Wall’s free throws with 20 seconds remaining 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 bailed him out by blocking another 3-point attempt by Jenkins on the other end and grabbing the ball.
"That shot was going in," Jenkins said. "He bit, but I went up too fast. He made a good play."
Wall made one of two free throws for a two-point lead with 2.5 seconds to play.
"Somebody steps up," said Kentucky forward DeMarcus Cousins, who led the Wildcats with 19 points. "Maybe he doesn’t score 20-plus points, he still is going to make key plays down the stretch, which helps the team."
Even still, 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.
"I was really comfortable on that shot," Ogilvy said. "I had a good look. I can make that shot eight of 10 [times]. Unfortunately, today was one of the two that I missed."
With that, Kentucky breathed another big sigh of relief, four days after edging the Bulldogs in Starkville, Miss.
The teams traded the lead 11 times and tied 14 times, and Kentucky held a 27-25 lead at halftime. The Wildcats relied on their power in the paint to overcome poor outside shooting. The Commodores never let them get too comfortable anywhere on the floor, limiting them to 3 for 16 from behind the arc.
"I love this: shooting 35 percent and 18 percent from the 3 and winning anyway," Calipari said.
Patrick Patterson had 13 points and 13 rebounds for Kentucky.
Taylor scored 17 points for Vanderbilt, which was a woeful 2-for-20 from 3-point range.
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 Jeffery Taylor with 6:08 to go gave the Commodores a 49-45 lead, their largest of the game.
The lead 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 first win in Nashville and first sweep of the regular season series since 2005.
"You’ve got to grind it," Calipari said. "We don’t force our will on the other team. We want to play different ways. When you get in that NCAA tournament, you don’t know if you are playing a team that is going to play fast, play slow. You’ve got to beat them anyway."