"We're staying hungry, we're staying together," said Derrick Byars, who scored 17 points and dished out six assists.
It appeared the Dores had this one in control with 90 seconds to play, but after three last-possession losses this season, no lead is safe. On cue, Kentucky sliced an 82-72 Vanderbilt lead to 84-81 after a flurry of Vanderbilt turnovers. When Rajon Rondo stole the ball from Alex Gordon and was intentionally fouled in the backcourt with 24 seconds left, UK appeared poised to add more heartbreak to an already heartbreaking season.
"I thought it was a good play by Red," said DeMarre Carroll. "Everybody else looked at him like he was an outcast, but i thought it was good. Plus, he's my roommate."
Rondo, a 61 percent free throw shooter, missed both free throws, but Kentucky maintained possession because of the intentional foul. Rondo missed a long three-pointer, but the ball went out of bounds off Vanderbilt, giving UK one last shot with two seconds to play. Ramel Bradley missed a double-pump three from the corner, and the Commodores had finally pulled out a last-possession game.
"Other than that minute and a half, our team played an extremely good game," said coach Kevin Stallings, whose squad now stands 13-8 and 4-6 in the SEC. "We're a little disappointed we had a 10-point lead and couldn't salt it away."
Carroll led the way with 22 points and 12 rebounds, while Foster scored 16, Julian Terrell had 11 and Gordon finished with 10. The Dores shot 59 percent for the game, including a season-high 64 percent from three.
Patrick Sparks led Kentucky (15-9, 5-5) with 17 points, including four threes. Ramel Bradley chipped in 14 and Ravi Moss had 12. Randolph Morris was limited to eight points in 15 foul-plagued minutes.
Kentucky, which has lost three straight SEC games for the first time since 1989, led 58-55 with 10 minutes to play, but the Commodores turned up the heat offensively, scoring on 11 of their next 12 possessions to take a 79-71 lead. Byars and Gordon combined for three threes during the stretch, while Terrell and Carroll attacked from inside. Sparks kept the Wildcats in the game from long distance, but Vanderbilt appeared to have the game in hand.
"It was a great game, obviously. I'm proud of our players," Stallings said. "Guys with lesser character would have been too down to show up to play or would have panicked when things were going against us."
A high energy first half left Vanderbilt in front 47-44. The Commodores appeared confident right from start and sprinted out to a 12-6 advantage after connecting of five of their first six shots.
"Coach has been telling us to take the fight to them," Carroll said. "We went out with great passion and great energy."
Kentucky rallied and took a 27-24 lead, but Vanderbilt put together a 17-7 run. Foster and Carroll were a lethal one-two combo in the first half, combining for 26 points on just 14 shots. Foster hit four of his five three-pointers and Carroll battled his way to six boards. Kentucky's Morris played just 10 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble.
After it was all over, Vanderbilt felt like it had life in this most bizarre of seasons. Mario Moore, on medical leave, was a postgame visitor to the Vanderbilt locker room after watching from the stands. Byars called him "an inspiration," though, ironically, Vanderbilt has had two of its best games since his leave started. The Commodores completed their first sweep of UK since 1974. That season, Vanderbilt was SEC champions. This year? TWo games under .500 in league play.
"That Alabama game helped us," Carroll said. "We played really hard. Our confidence level after that game really rose. I saw it in practice. Right now, we can't look back, we can only look forward."
Next on the docket is Florida, 81-58 winners over Vanderbilt on Jan. 28. The Dores can only hope this strong play continues.
"I've been saying our team has been playing good basketball," Stallings said. "We just don't have a lot to show for it."
The Dores showed it on Saturday. And a raucous crowd went home happy.