LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Two games have gone a long way toward erasing three decades worth of struggles for Vanderbilt at Rupp Arena.
The Commodores used outstanding 3-point shooting to stun No. 25 Kentucky on Saturday—their third straight victory against the Wildcats and fourth win of the season against a ranked opponent.
Before last year’s win in Lexington, the Commodores (13-6, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) had never beaten the nation’s all-time winningest team in 28 meetings at Rupp Arena. Now they’ve won two straight in the building to snap Kentucky’s 11-game winning streak—third longest in the country.
“You just have to accept you’re going to come up here for 40 minutes and get in a bar fight with the Kentucky Wildcats,” said Dan Cage, whose 3-pointer with just over a minute left put the game out of reach.
The teams traded leads until the end of the physical game, but Vanderbilt hit the key shots down the stretch.
With under 3 minutes to go, Ramel Bradley hit an off-balance jumper to give the Wildcats (15-4, 4-1) their final lead at 59-58. However, Shan Foster answered with a layup, then got a steal to feed Derrick Byars, who led all scorers with 23, on another bucket.
Cage then stretched the lead to nine on one of his two 3-pointers as the Commodores went on a 10-0 run to pull away.
“When Dan Cage shoots it, if he’s open, there is not one ounce in my entire body that says, `Oh no!”’ Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said.
Kentucky had a 32-27 edge on rebounds, even though star center Randolph Morris wasn’t much of a factor until late in the first half. He didn’t get his first point until making a free throw almost 15 minutes in and finished with 11 points.
“Everybody knows we’re undersized,” Byars said. “We don’t have a Randolph Morris we can dump it to underneath.”
Instead, Vanderbilt won from outside. The Commodores were 11-for-23 on 3s, one game after making a season-high 15 on Wednesday in a victory over No. 10 Alabama.
Besides the Wildcats and Crimson Tide, Vanderbilt has also knocked off then-No. 16 Tennessee and then-No. 25 Georgia Tech. The Commodores’ only loss against a ranked opponent came against then-No. 8 Georgetown in the season opener.
Kentucky never trailed by double-digits, but every time the Wildcats started to make a modest run, Byars or one of the other Vanderbilt outside shooters seemed to answer with a 3.
After starting 2-0, the Wildcats didn’t lead again until the end of a sloppy first half, when Bobby Perry’s 3 gave them a 33-32 edge at halftime. However, Vanderbilt immediately answered with back-to-back 3s—one each by Byars and Ross Neltner—to start the second half.
Although the Wildcats were only 6-of-22 from 3-point range, they dominated inside with season-best performances from forwards Perry and Sheray Thomas. Perry led five double-digit scorers for Kentucky with 13 points, and Thomas had 12—one point shy of a career best.
Foster had 16 points and Cage added 10 for Vanderbilt.
Afterward, Morris put things in perspective for the Wildcats, whose one-week return to the Top 25 will likely end Monday.
“We just know we’re not where we need to be, but a lot of teams have more than one loss in the league,” Morris said. “It’s not the end of the world.”