At the buzzer: Kentucky basketball defeats Vanderbilt 69-53 in Nashville


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats guard Cason Wallace (22) drives towards the basket during the Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt mens basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky won 69-53. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky mens basketball defeated Vanderbilt 69-53 inside Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee, on Tuesday.

The Wildcats entered the game on the back of a three-game conference winning streak, starting with a win at No. 5 Tennessee. The Cats then went on to defeat Georgia and Texas A&M at home, despite being in a hole at halftime in both games, to regain a winning record in SEC play.

With the win over Tennessee in Knoxville, Kentucky entered the game 1-2 on the road in conference play and 2-5 all season away from home.

Having finished the 2021-22 season a perfect 3-0 against the Commodores, winning in Nashville 78-66, inside Rupp Arena 77-70 and in the SEC Tournament 77-71, the Wildcats entered the matchup having won their last 13 straight over Vanderbilt with the most recent Commodore victory coming on Feb. 27, 2016.

In Kentucky’s last matchup in Nashville the Cats were led by victory by eventual consensus National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe, who went off for 30 points.

Looking to continue the winning streak in season full of ups and downs, Kentucky started things off with the starting lineup of CJ Fredrick, Cason Wallace, Jacob Toppin, Chris Livingston and the aforementioned Tshiebwe.

For Vanderbilt, the starting lineup of Tyrin Lawrence, Paul Lewis, Jordan Wright, Myles Stute and Quentin Millora-Brown were tasked with shutting down Kentucky, with Vandy big men Lee Dort and Liam Robbins unable to play due to injury.

Kentucky Wildcats guard Sahvir Wheeler (2) stumbles with the ball during the Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt mens basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

Winning the tipoff, it was Kentucky who got on the board first with a mid-range jumper courtesy of Toppin. Unfortunately for Kentucky, despite coming up with points on each of its first two drives, a nearly three-minute scoring drought quickly followed.

Kentucky would hit a seemingly disastrous hurdle just before halftime when Fredrick, who was tied for second leading scorer in the game with eight points, checked out of the game with apparent discomfort in his right leg. Fredrick would not return to the game in the half, being attended to by training staff until the break.

Entering halftime, Kentucky boasted a 36-27 lead over the Commodores after shooting 55% from the field on 29 attempts. Despite having attempted 32 3-pointers against Texas A&M in the game prior, the Wildcats entered halftime in Nashville with just eight deep balls attempted.

Halfway through the game all three of the leading scorers came from Kentucky, with Reeves leading all scorers with nine points followed by Fredrick and Toppin with eight each.

Kentucky fans in attendance were able to take a sigh of relief before the start of the second half as Fredrick rejoined the team for warmups, ensuring that all three of the game’s leading scorers would be able to take the court in the second half.

Starting the second half hot, Kentucky found its magic number less than a minute in, with a 3-pointer from Wallace giving the Cats an 11-point lead. Entering the game, Kentucky held a record of 320-10 under John Calipari when taking a 10-point lead at any point in the game.

Things would go on to get worse for the Commodores, with an eventual 9-0 scoring run seeing the Cats get up to 18 points ahead before Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse called a timeout.

While the Commodores continued to fight to stay in the game, Kentucky never let them get back within 10 points, cruising to a victory in the music city.

Finishing the game with a 69-53 victory, Kentucky was led on offense by five Cats who recorded double-digit point totals, including Reeves, who recorded 16 points, followed by Tshiebwe (15) Toppin (12), Fredrick (10) and Wallace (10)

As a team Kentucky shot 56% from the field as opposed to Vanderbilt, who shot 33% from the field.

The Wildcats also dominated the Commodores on the boards, outrebounding Vanderbilt 37-24.

With the win the Wildcats will take a break from conference play to host the No. 9 Kansas Jayhawks inside Rupp Arena for the last edition of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Tipoff against the Jayhawks is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 28, at 7 p.m. EST. The game will air live on ESPN.