NASHVILLE-- Tubby Smith's Kentucky Wildcats rallied from a 14-point deficit in the first half to defeat Vanderbilt Tuesday night at Ingram Court, 74-52. It was a tale of two halves. Vanderbilt controlled the Wildcats in the first half and kept the large contingent of Blue Misters quiet for the first 20 minutes.
But the second half belonged to Kentucky.
Vanderbilt came out on fire, blistering the nets with a 48.1% (13-27) field goal percentage including 77.8% (7-9) from beyond the three-point arc. It was reminiscent of the Draud-Goheen-Booker Bomb Squad of the late 1980's.
Freshman Mario Moore hardly played like a freshman. The 6-0 Nashville native hit three three-pointers in the first frame, and made all thee foul shots when fouled on his fourth three-point attempt. Moore's 12 points led all scorers at the break. Junior Matt Freije also hit three treys, and Scott Hundley banked in another off the glass. As an exuberant Memorial Gym faithful looked on, the Commodores expanded their lead to 25-11, and would hold on for a 36-28 at the break.
Then came the second half. Kentucky simply played with more passion, aggression and desire, and the Commodores went ice cold from the field. Vandy hit just 4-of-17 from the floor, while Kentucky shot 54.8% (17-31). However, to be fair, it was Kentucky's pressing defense that extended the Commodores' offense a full 45 feet that made the difference.
The Wildcats caused turnover after turnover and turned the second half into their personal track meet, with dunks and easy lay-ups being the norm. Vanderbilt had no answer. The Dores couldn't throw the ball into the ocean from the beach in the second half and as Kentucky's lead kept building, the Dores kept going one-and-out.
"Obviously Kentucky played a great game," said a somber Coach Kevin Stallings. "Based on the film I've seen, I would say in the second half they played as well as they have all season."
"They just hit us with a big hard punch and we just didn't respond to it and we're disappointed with that."
There was no real answer. Stallings was complimentary of the tremendous defense played by the entire Kentucky team which dictated the outcome of the game.
Mario Moore led Vanderbilt in scoring with 17 points, a career high, while Freije finished with 15 points. Brian Thornton scored eight and collected eight rebounds. No other Commodore scored more than four points. Kentucky had four players in double figures, led by Gerald Fitch with 18 and Keith Bogans with 16.
Vanderbilt falls to 8-6 with the loss, and 1-2 in conference play. The Commodores travel to Knoxville Saturday for a meeting with the Tennessee Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena (6:30 p.m. CST). Kentucky, which improved to 12-3 (3-0 SEC), faces non-conference foe Notre Dame Saturday.