NEW ORLEANS — With so much talk surrounding Kentucky's heralded freshman class and its 24-game winning streak, it was a senior-laden group from Vanderbilt that stole the SEC spotlight Sunday afternoon.
Led by a combined 35 points from seniors Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt upset No. 1 Kentucky 71-64 in Sunday's SEC tournament championship. It was the first SEC tournament title for the Commodores since 1951, and Kentucky's first loss since 73-72 at Indiana on Dec. 10.
"We've been working really hard for four years, so it's a greatly rewarding feeling to come out here and finish off the game like we did" Sunday, said Taylor, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds.
With a starting lineup that includes five seniors and a junior, the Commodores (24-10) capitalized on experience and familiarity, having played Kentucky (31-2) twice during the regular season.
It was clear from the outset that the third time wasn't going to be easy for the Wildcats. Vanderbilt led 26-18 with 5:20 remaining in the first half, but Kentucky went on a 12-2 run to take a 30-28 lead with 2:36 left in the half. The score was tied at 37 at halftime, and from there it was a battle to the finish.
Kentucky led 62-55 with 5:23 remaining in the game, but Vanderbilt rallied. Tied at 62 with 1:52 remaining, Vandy went 7-for-7 at the free-throw line to help seal the win. Kentucky did not score a field goal in the final 8:04 of the game.
"We had our chances, we had our shots, we didn't make them," Calipari said. "You got to give them credit. That game was over and then all of a sudden it's like basket, basket, basket. It's anybody's ballgame. And they played down the stretch well. Hats off to them, congratulations."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.