Vanderbilt's 7-9 SEC record is made up of a 3-5 home mark and a 4-4 road mark. The last time Vanderbilt was 3-5 in the SEC at home, it finished 3-13 overall. Vanderbilt has won three straight road games and lost three straight home games.
And ponder this -- the last time Vanderbilt swept Kentucky in a season, it won the Southeastern Conference title. In 2006, the Commodores are under .500 in league play.
"We were obviously very disappointed to say the least," said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, who has lost all seven regular season finales at Vanderbilt. "We lost our poise in the second half and that is very disappointing."
Shan Foster led the Commodores with 15 points, but it took 16 field goal attempts to get there. Vanderbilt shot 33 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 12 times in the second half when UT turned up the pressure.
"This is our 27th game of the year," Stallings said. "We as coaches should have had our guys more poised and more ready for the press."
Vanderbilt played a solid first half, racing out to leads of 12-2 and 23-11 before hitting a 6:30 scoring drought. DeMarre Carroll dropped in a shot just before the half to give VU a 31-21 lead, then Vanderbilt scored the first six points of the second half to take a 16-point advantage.
"We didn't feel like we were out of it," said Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl. "We knew we weren't playing well, but we knew we weren't out of it."
Tennessee started pressuring the Commodores full court, and VU wilted. An 11-0 Tennessee run tied the game 44-44 with 8:55 to go. Derrick Byars gave Vanderbilt its last lead at 55-54 on a free throw with 3:33 left, but Tennessee dominated the final minutes of the game. Andre Patterson stole a pass from Alex Gordon and dunked it to give UT a 56-55 lead, then Dane Bradshaw and Chris Lofton (21 points) hit key three-pointers in the last two minutes. UT closed the game on a 14-4 run.
"When they started pressuring us, we lost our composure," Carroll said. "We threw the ball away. Teams will go on runs during basketball games. Better teams will keep their composure."
Vanderbilt will have to win four games in four days at the SEC Tournament next weekend to reach the NCAA Tournament. Barring that, it will likely be back to the NIT for the ninth time in the past 17 years. One possible opponent? Lipscomb, who lost the A-Sun championship game to Belmont but qualified for the NIT with the regular season title.
"Coach Stallings has preached from the beginning of the season to win the SEC Tournament," Carroll said. "We're going to go out with the same mind frame and try to win it. All of our losses and slip-ups mean our life is on the line. We have to keep fighting."
Senior Mario Moore tries to ignite Vanderbilt fans during the game. (VM/Stan Jones)