Vanderbilt-Kentucky Preview

The Associated Press

After a pair of competitive games in the SEC tournament, Kentucky feels that it's more prepared to pursue a national title.

The top-ranked Wildcats will try to head into the NCAA tournament with some momentum and tie the fifth-longest win streak in school history by beating Vanderbilt in Sunday's championship game.

Kentucky (32-1) has trailed in the second half of each of its two games in New Orleans and hasn't led by more than nine points.

"I've got this team that has that will to win. They want to win. They have great pride," coach John Calipari said. "We're just a really young team and every one of these experiences is good for my team."

The Wildcats trailed 35-30 with less than 16 minutes remaining in Friday's tournament opener against LSU before pulling away for a 60-51 win. They fell behind by as many as 10 points in the first half of Saturday's semifinal against No. 22 Florida and trailed by five with 10:43 to go before scoring 14 consecutive points in a 74-71 victory.

"We know people are going to give us their best shot every game, especially coming down to tournament time," said freshman guard Marquis Teague, who made two of his team's four free throws over the final 15 seconds. "It really doesn't matter how much you win by. We just want to make sure we get a win."

A 28th SEC tournament title - and third in a row - would likely qualify as one of those good experiences and Anthony Davis could play a part in helping the Wildcats to that crown. The freshman phenom and national player of the year candidate averaged a team-best 21.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 6.0 blocks in the two victories over Vanderbilt (23-10) this season.

He had a career-high 28 points on 10-of-11 shooting, 11 rebounds and five blocks in an 83-74 home win over the Commodores on Feb. 25 that clinched the program's 45th SEC regular-season title.

Kentucky led by only a point with 4:27 remaining in that game until a jumper from Davis started a 7-1 run.

The Wildcats needed Doron Lamb's key 3-pointer with 3:18 to go on Feb. 11 to help secure a 69-63 win in Nashville. Kentucky blew a 14-point lead in that game but scored the final eight points.

This time, they'll face a team that's posted decisive wins following a 5-5 finish to the regular season. After routing Georgia 63-41 on Friday, Vanderbilt used some long-range shooting in the second half to knock off Mississippi 65-53 in Saturday's semifinals.

The Commodores made six of their 12 attempts from beyond the arc over the final 20 minutes and conference scoring leader John Jenkins made three of those during a 23-point performance, finishing with five.

With the win, Vanderbilt advanced to the SEC tournament title game for the first time since 1951, when it beat Kentucky for the crown. To claim this championship, the Commodores could use a better shooting performance from their leading scorer against the Wildcats.

Jenkins has averaged 20.3 points over his last four games versus Kentucky, but was 11 of 32 from the field (34.4 percent) in this season's two meetings.

The teams haven't met in the SEC tournament since the 2003 quarterfinals in New Orleans. Kentucky is 4-3 all-time in tournament matchups and leads the series 136-44.

"We'll have a tough game tomorrow," Commodores coach Kevin Stallings said. "It's tough in every respect. It's tough on offense. It's tough on defense. It's tough on the boards."

The Wildcats haven't won at least 25 games in a row since a run of 26 consecutive victories Dec. 30, 2002-March 29, 2003. They won a school-record 32 straight from Dec. 5, 1953-Jan. 8, 1955.

What to Read Next