Hundreds of jublilant students and fans stormed the court afterwards, as the Commodores celebrated their first victory over a ranked team since they pulled off a home win over fourth-ranked Alabama in January, 2003.
In losing their first road game of the year, Tubby Smith's Wildcats fell to 14-3, 4-2.
"It would have been easy for us to have hung our heads after we got down 10," said Matt Freije (right), who led the Commodores with 20 points and 11 rebounds. "I think that's the most adversity we've faced, and then come back to win. We didn't want to go 2-5 in the league, so this was an important game for us."
The Commodores appeared dead several times, trailing 53-43 with 12:55 left, and trailing 58-52 with 4:29 left. But Kevin Stallings' team, which had talked all week about making "winning plays", this time made all the right moves down the stretch.
Vandy took the lead for good on Dan Cage's 3-pointer with 2:20 left. The Commodore defense stopped Kentucky on its next two possessions, and with the Wildcats trailing by two with 0:17 left, quick-handed Russell Lakey stole the ball from UK point guard Cliff Hawkins.
"I just tried to put as much pressure on him as I could," Lakey said. "I was fortunate to get the ball."
Lakey was immediately fouled and missed his free throw, but Freije tapped the rebound out to Scott Hundley. The Wildcats fouled Hundley, who sank two free throws to put Vandy up 64-60.
"I was nervous," said Hundley, a native of the Lexington, Ky. area, of his clutch free throws. "In my four years here, I would have never dreamed of anything like this. I can't really explain it. I don't even remember shooting."
Vanderbilt burned a foul with 0:08 to play, but the Wildcats were not in the bonus yet. After a time out, the Commodores allowed Kelenna Azubuike to drive for a lay-up, which he missed; when Freije pulled down the rebound, the affair was settled.
The Commodores committed three bad-looking turnovers in the game's first 90 seconds and quickly fell behind, 7-2. But Vandy eventually found its offense behind the shooting of 7-2 David Przybyszewski. The Commodore big man made a steal in the backcourt, then showed his agility by droving coast-to-coast for a dunk that cut the lead to 7-4. He then proceeded to nail three 3-pointers to ignite a run that put Vandy up 23-11.
Kentucky fought back to take a 27-25 lead, largely with its starters sitting on the bench. But Matt Freije would score 13 of his 20 points in the first half, and Vandy would pull ahead at halftime, 40-35.
The Commodores stumbled again in the early minutes of the second half, and the 5-point lead quickly evaporated. The Wildcats went on an 18-3 run, with most of their points coming on easy baskets either in transition or off precision passes. With 12:55 to play, Kentucky led 53-43 and appeared on the verge of turning the game into a runaway.
But Vanderbilt answered with a 9-0 run, and Kentucky seemed to lose its shooting touch. The Cats took a 58-52 lead with 4:29 left on an Erik Daniels free throw, but Vandy would outscore UK 14-2 for the rest of the game.
Junior forward Corey Smith, serving a one-game suspension for brawling after Vandy's loss to South Carolina last Wednesday, wore the team sweats and was present for the game, but did not play.
Vanderbilt gets a week off now before heading to Gainesville next Saturday for a rematch with Florida for a 6:30 CT / 7:30 ET game. The Commodores won the previous meeting between the two teams, 86-72, on Jan. 17 in Nashville.
Photos by Mark Humphrey, Associated Press.