Kentucky blew a 16-point first-half lead, but Vanderbilt's three-pointer at the buzzer to win it missed, and the Cats survived to claim their SEC opener 60-58.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Kyle Wiltjer's jumper with 1:57 left put Kentucky ahead to stay, and the Wildcats kicked off their Southeastern Conference schedule Thursday night by holding off Vanderbilt 60-58 after blowing a 16-point lead.
The Wildcats (10-4) also seemed to get a bit of help from officials in the final seconds.
Nerlen Noel hit a jumper with 17.3 seconds left that went in after the shot clock buzzer went off, and Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings took a timeout to plead his case. Officials didn't review the play. Kedren Johnson made a 3 with 7.6 seconds left to pull Vandy within 60-58, and Kyle Fuller stole the inbound pass with 6.7 seconds to go giving Vandy a last chance.
But Johnson's 3 hit the rim just before the buzzer as the rally fell short for Vanderbilt (6-7).
Ryan Harrow led Kentucky with 16 points, Noel had 13 and Archie Goodwin 12.
Johnson finished with a game-high 18 points, and Rod Odom added 12 as Vanderbilt outrebounded Kentucky 42-37.
This was a rematch of the SEC tournament championship game that Vanderbilt won last March for its first such title in 61 years. Wiltjer is one of only five players combined on the rosters left from that game, and all the youth is why neither team was ranked in this game for the first time since Feb. 17, 2009.
Kentucky coach John Calipari started his latest crop of freshmen for a second straight game, and the Wildcats looked good in taking the lead from the opening bucket and leading 35-24 at halftime. Vanderbilt had won six of the previous nine games against Kentucky in Memorial Gym, and the Commodores finally stymied Kentucky when they went to a zone defense.
The Wildcats missed 12 straight shots from the floor. Vanderbilt took advantage, trailing 47-31 with 13:48 left when Sheldon Jeter hit a jumper to start an 18-0 run.
Shelby Moats hit a 3, and Dai-Jon Parker added a 3 to get the Commodores rolling. Kentucky went cold too, missing 12 straight shots from the floor. Johnson's driving layup tied it up at 47, and Jeter's dunk capped the run and gave Vanderbilt its first lead of the game at 49-47 with 6:11 left.
The teams swapped the lead twice with three ties down the stretch. Johnson's bucket for Vandy tied it for the last time at 54, then Wiltjer's long jumper put Kentucky ahead to stay to set up the frantic ending.
Kentucky won its SEC opener for the 23rd time in 26 seasons, improving to 62-18 all-time.
All the practice since Kentucky's easy 90-38 win over Eastern Michigan sure paid off early. Harrow hit a 3-pointer within the first 90 seconds, and the Wildcats dominated Vanderbilt early.
Vanderbilt came in scoring 37.3 percent of its points off 3-pointers, and the Commodores missed their first 10. Their shooting woes extended all over the court as they also missed easy layups when they did get close enough to the basket to shoot. Kentucky disrupted them repeatedly, blocking six shots alone in the first half.
The Commodores didn't hit a 3 until 1:22 remained in the first half when Johnson hit from beyond the arc, and Odom added another just before halftime. Vanderbilt wound up hitting 8 of 30 from 3-point range.
--With the win, Kentucky improves to 10-4 on the season and 1-0 in Southeastern Conference action. Vanderbilt falls to 6-6 and 0-1 in league play.
--UK now leads the all-time series with Vanderbilt 137-45.
--Kentucky is the all-time NCAA leader in wins and pushes its all-time win total to 2,100 with tonight’s win.
--The Wildcats’ record in Southeastern Conference lid lifters 62-18 and 3-1under John Calipari.
--Kentucky’s record in the Volunteer State is 137-45 including a 54-27 mark against the Commodores in Nashville.
--Kentucky returns to action on Saturday, Jan. 12 when UK will open its home conference slate at Rupp Arena vs. Texas A&M. The game is slated for a 4 p.m. ET tip. The game will mark the just fourth in the series history between the Aggies, and the first since Texas A&M joined the SEC.
Team Game Notes
--UK used the starting combination of Willie Cauley-Stein, Archie Goodwin, Ryan Harrow, Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress for the third-straight game. UK is 2-1 when using this starting combination.
--Ryan Harrow connected on Kentucky’s first 3-point attempt of the game in the opening minutes of the first half to extend UK’s 3-point streak to 841 consecutive games which is a mark that ranks as the third longest such streak in the nation. Vanderbilt holds the second-longest streak and increased that mark to 845 games.
--UK started the game with a 3-pointer for the third time this season. Harrow’s opening 3-point connection was the first of the season, however it marked the third time this season he’s scored first for UK.
--Willie Cauley-Stein’s dunk gave UK a 15-6 lead with 11:56 remaining in the second half to mark all five starters having tallied at least two points for the evening.
--The Blue and White took a 35-24 lead into the half marking the the second-straight season UK held an edge at the break while at Vanderbilt. Kentucky is 10-0 when leading at the half this season.
--Kentucky withstood an 18-0 second-half run by the Commodores for the victor, and Vanderbilt outrebounded the Cats by a 42-37 margin. The Wildcats are now 2-2 when being outrebounded by the opponent.
--The two-point margin of victory is the smallest since winning by three over Maryland in the opening game of the season.
Individual Player Notes
#3 Nerlens Noel
--Pulled down at least six rebounds in all 14 games this season.
--Reached double-figure scoring for the seventh time this season with 13 points.
--Has multiple steals and blocks in nine games this season including five-straight.
#10 Archie Goodwin
--Has scored in double-figures in 12 of 14 games this season.
--Pulled down five or more rebounds in nine games this season.
#12 Ryan Harrow
--Scored 16 points to mark the fifth-consecutive double-figure scoring game of the season for the sophomore.
--He has reached double-figure scoring in the first half in back-to-back games.
--Hit multiple 3-pointers in consecutive games for the first time in his career.
--Dished out multiple assists in eight-straight games.
#15 Willie Cauley-Stein
--Matched a career-high with four assists.
--Led the team in rebounds for the third time this season.
--Tied a career-high with four swats.
#22 Alex Poythress
--Has snatched six or more rebounds in seven of his last eight games.
Vanderbilt Head Coach Kevin Stallings
“If you didn’t care who won, it was a great college basketball game. I’m disappointed to have lost. I told my son on the way here that it’d be nice to have some magic at Memorial. When that ball went to Kedren [Johnson], that’s what flashed through my mind. Kentucky just made a couple more plays than we did. I thought we played competitively and guarded well, at least in the second half.”
On a 24-Second Violation Not Being Called Against Kentucky:
“[The officials] said it wasn’t reviewable. The officials got together and said it wasn’t reviewable. I don’t want to spin this press conference talking about a call. Judging by my reaction, you could tell what I thought. Those are three of the best [officials] in the country and they refereed a great game.”
On What Coach Stallings Told the Team After the Game:
“I told our team that I wouldn’t be any prouder of them if that shot went in. We got down, fought back, and had a chance to win. It wasn’t a lack of effort.”
On Vanderbilt’s Zone Defense:
“I thought if we started making shots, we’d get back into the game. I thought the quality of our shots was really good. Our staff wanted to go to the zone earlier than we did, but I wanted to wait as long as I could.”
On Vanderbilt’s Confidence:
“Our players played really hard. I’m not sure there was a lot of growing up [needed] in order to play hard. I thought the stretch that lost it for us was where we missed an open three, missed an ill-advised shot, turned it over, and then turned it over again. That was where [Kentucky] jumped out to a lead and got up by like five. That was the key stretch. We shot ourselves in the foot a bit.”
On Vanderbilt’s Final Play:
“Kedren [Johnson] was an option… [Kentucky] did a good job of figuring out what the first option was… That’s a play I’ve kept in my pocket until a situation like that.”
On Vanderbilt’s Run:
“We started making shots. We kept getting shots.”