No. 23 Vanderbilt knocks off No. 18 Kentucky 81-77
By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- John Jenkins' mother texted him before Vanderbilt's game Saturday and told him to score 25 points or more.
The sophomore guard followed the order.
Jenkins scored a career-high 32 points, hitting six 3-pointers, to lift No. 23 Vanderbilt to an 81-77 victory over No. 18 Kentucky despite his sprained right shoulder aching so bad he needed heat at halftime and a big bag of ice afterward. He also made sure to talk to his mother first.
"She said, `Mama knows best' after I hugged her," Jenkins said. "I said, `You do. You definitely do.'"
With the win, the Commodores (18-6, 6-4) swept a three-game homestand that will keep them tied for second in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division. They came into Saturday tied with Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee, two losses behind Florida.
"Home games are critical at this time of year," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "You just can't afford to drop any. I'm proud of our guys. We had a tough three-game homestand. Three very good teams, and we were able to do what we needed to do."
Kentucky (17-7, 5-5) dropped to 1-5 on the road in the SEC this season and to the bottom of the East.
"We still had a chance to win," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "I liked our execution down the stretch, but we were in a dogfight. We have a couple of guys that don't have that mentality to come up with the ball."
Jenkins had Vanderbilt's first 30-point game against the Wildcats since Mike Rhodes had 34 on Jan. 19, 1980, in a loss, and the Commodores' first 30-point game since A.J. Ogilvy had 33 at LSU on March 4, 2009.
"He just continued moving," said Kentucky guard Brandon Knight, who helped guard Jenkins when DeAndre Liggins got into foul trouble. "He's putting it up and hitting. A great player."
Jenkins wound up playing nearly 40 minutes, resting 30 seconds in the first half. Jenkins was 11 of 17 with three rebounds, three assists, a steal, a blocked shot and only one turnover. An assistant coach kept reminding Stallings that Jenkins had been in the entire game. Stallings said he'll get Jenkins out tomorrow.
"Obviously, John was spectacular," Stallings said.
Festus Ezeli added 14 points, Steve Tchiengang scored all 12 of his in the first half off and Brad Tinsley had 11 for the Commodores.
Terrence Jones led Kentucky with 25 points, Knight had 20 and Liggins 10. Darius Miller played only 18 minutes before leaving with a groin injury.
Jones' 3-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the rim. Calipari wanted a foul that didn't come as the Commodores celebrated beating the Wildcats for the fifth time in Memorial Gym in the past six seasons.
Jones said he was bumped.
"But they didn't call it. We had a lot of opportunities way before that ... ," Jones said.
The Wildcats' youth caught up with them in the final minute. Vandy hit its final six free throws to help seal the victory. When Tinsley hit two free throws with 31.6 seconds left for a 79-75 lead, the Wildcats didn't put up a shot until Liggins' jumper hit air with 17 seconds remaining.
They brought the ball up too slowly after Tinsley added two more free throws with 7.9 seconds left, leaving Jones to launch his 3 almost near midcourt.
"We tried to make the difficult pass rather than just shooting," Knight said.
Calipari credited Vanderbilt switching late to a zone defense, something he had warned his Wildcats might happen.
"We kept trying to pass it. I don't know if guys were timid enough to think they couldn't take it, so I'm going to pass," Calipari said.
The Commodores needed every point as Jeff Taylor missed his first six shots and played only 21 minutes due to foul trouble. The junior came in averaging 15.1 points a game, and his only basket came with a spinning layup to cap a fast break with 2:41 left putting Vandy up 73-69.
Vanderbilt matched a season-high with 11 3s, and the SEC's best free throw shooters went 20 of 23 at the line. Kentucky was 14 of 18 in a game with 39 fouls.
They swapped the lead nine times with nine ties, and Kentucky never led by more than two points in the second half -- the last at 66-64 on a 3-pointer by Knight with 5:38 left.
Ezeli tied it with a layup, then Jenkins put Vanderbilt ahead to stay with his sixth 3 with 4:28 left. This was special for Jenkins, a native of Hendersonville, Tenn., who watched John Wall block a late 3 in a 58-56 loss here a year ago.
"I told Coach I must've been dreaming because this can't be real. Especially being from here you see a lot of great games against Kentucky," Jenkins said. "To be a part of that part of that legacy now is something special."
Kentucky looked ready to blow the Commodores out of Memorial Gym in the opening minutes, taking a 19-11 lead with eight straight points.
Vanderbilt answered with a 3-pointer by Tchiengang, which seemed to wake up the Commodores. Tchiengang scored nine of the final 11 points of the first half to turn a 34-33 deficit into a 44-40 lead.
Updated February 12, 2011