At the buzzer: Vanderbilt defeats No. 23 Kentucky 68-66


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) defends during the No. 23 Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt mens basketball game on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

No. 23 Kentucky mens basketball was defeated 68-66 by Vanderbilt in its home finale on Wednesday.

The Wildcats entered the game on the back of a conference winning streak that saw the team go from just one quadrant-1 win to five and make its way back into the AP Top 25 for the first time since week eight.

Facing two final regular season games before the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, Kentucky first set its sights on the Commodores for the Cats’ home finale.

With it being the home finale, Kentucky honored its seniors prior to tip off, with Oscar Tshiebwe, Jacob Toppin, Antonio Reeves, CJ Fredrick, Sahvir Wheeler and Brennan Canada being honored as seniors. Wheeler, who was unable to be present after surgery, was represented by head coach John Calipari’s wife Ellen.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari coaches during the No. 23 Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt mens basketball game on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

Kicking things off with a starting lineup of Fredrick, Cason Wallace, Toppin, Canada and Tshiebwe, Kentucky found itself squaring off with Vanderbilts’ Tyrin Lawrence, Ezra Manjon, Trey Thomas, Colin Smith and Liam Robbins.

Kentucky won the opening tip off but was unable to score on its opening possession. Luckily for the Cats, Toppin was fouled on the rebound, going 1-2 from the line for the first point of the game.

It would be the Commodores who would score the first field goal of the game when Lawrence found the net, but Reeves quickly responded on the other end, drawing a foul and making Kentucky’s first field goal.

Both teams amassed several empty possessions, entering a timeout with just under 16 minutes to play in the half with the score at 9-6 in favor of UK. Unfortunately for the Commodores, Robbins went down under the basket clutching his right shin and had to be assisted off the court and directly away from the playing surface. With the Commodores having just six points at the time of the injury, Robbins left the game with one-third of Vandy’s point total.

Both teams found themselves tied at 15 by the second timeout with just over 10 minutes remaining in the first half. The Commodores would even take a brief lead before a 6-0 run by Kentucky, capped off by Kentucky’s first 3-pointer of the night courtesy of Fredrick, UK boasted a 21-17 lead with exactly eight minutes left in the half.

Shockingly for Kentucky, despite leading for over 15 minutes in the first half, the Commodores stormed back, finishing the half with a 7-0 scoring run that included a buzzer-beater 3-pointer by Quentin Millora-Brown to take a 34-30 lead into the break.

As a team Kentucky shot just 32% from the field and 9% (1-11) from beyond the arc. While Vanderbilt wasn’t much better, shooting 36% from the field, the Commodores drained four 3-pointers in the half.

Kentucky Wildcats forward Jacob Toppin (0) dribbles the ball during the No. 23 Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt mens basketball game on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

As such, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Wright finished the half as the game’s leading scorer, recording 12 points after going 2-2 from beyond the arc, while Kentucky was led by Fredrick and Reeves, both of which had six points with the former boasting Kentucky’s only deep ball up to that point.

Things would worsen more for Kentucky early in the second half with freshman point guard Wallace seemed to go down with an injury. While he was able to walk off the court, his departure and subsequent checkup on the sideline left many fans in attendance with a feeling of worry. The worry only grew worse when Wallace left the bench and walked back toward the Kentucky locker room.

With Wallace off the court the Commodores found themselves on a 6-0 run to lead Kentucky 44-35 with just over 15 minutes left to play. Vanderbilt would extend its lead to 10 points before Reeves managed to end Kentucky’s scoring drought with a floater.

Chris Livingston would then notch a steal that turned into a powerful fast-break dunk to shrink the lead to six points and send the home crowd into a frenzy.

Livingston would once again send the fans into a stupor when he drained the team’s second 3-pointer of the night to get the game back within two points.

With freshman Adou Thiero taking over as leading point guard in Wallace and Wheeler’s absences, the Commodores extended their lead back up to seven points with eight minutes left to play.

Despite the hiccup, Reeves drained another 3-pointer after Tshiebwe knocked down a free throw and just like that Kentucky was back within one point.

Despite that, Kentucky couldn’t seem to overcome the Commodore hurdle, falling back behind by five points with under four minutes left to play.

Kentucky would get back within one point once again with 2:33 left on the clock before Reeves was sent to the free-throw line to tie the game for Kentucky for the first time in the half.

Tshiebwe would record a basket just before the one-minute mark to finally give Kentucky its first lead of the half.

The Commodores would quickly tie it up and retake the lead with just over two seconds left on the clock. Try as it might, Kentucky was unable to overcome the deficit, and ultimately lost its home finale.

Kentucky was led by Tshiebwe, who recorded 21 points, while Reeves was the only other Cat to record a double-digit point total, notching 14 points.

For the Commodores, Wright finished with 23 points while Lawrence dropped 21 and Millora-Brown notched 10.

Kentucky will return to action on Saturday, Feb. 4, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where it will close out its regular season against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Tipoff against Arkansas is scheduled for 2 p.m. EST and will air live on CBS Sports.