ORLEANS (AP) -- Down by nine points, Kentucky had no reason
to be concerned.
The No. 2 Wildcats simply put together one of their
patented runs, cruising to an 81-63 victory over Vanderbilt
in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference
tournament Friday night.
One night after top-ranked Arizona was upset in the
first round of the Pac-10 tournament, the next team
in line avoided a similar fate with plenty of room to
Kentucky (27-3) extended its winning streak to 21 games
after becoming just the second SEC team in 47 years
to go through the league schedule with a perfect record
(16-0). The Wildcats advanced to meet either Tennessee
or Auburn in Saturday's semifinals.
Keith Bogans scored 16 points, leading four players
in double figures. Seven others scored as Kentucky cleared
its bench and still shot 53 percent from the field.
This one mirrored the Wildcats' two victories over
Vanderbilt (11-18) during the regular season.
On Jan. 14, Kentucky trailed by eight at the half but
outscored the Commodores 46-16 over the final 20 minutes
for a 74-52 victory. Last week, the Wildcats celebrated
Senior Night with a 106-44 romp at Rupp Arena.
Shrugging off the last three halves, Vanderbilt started
strong this time. The Big Blue faithful squirmed nervously
when Brian Thornton dunked to give the Commodores a
17-8 lead less than eight minutes into the game.
Not to worry. The Wildcats shifted gears and quickly
reeled off nine straight points to tie it up. Kentucky
finally took its first lead, 28-26, when Jules Camara
stole the ball near halfcourt and cruised in for a dunk
with 3:58 remaining.
Camara's basket was part of a 14-2 run that closed
the half for the Wildcats, who led 36-28 at the break.
And they weren't done, either.
Kentucky scored 12 of the first 14 points in the second
half, sandwiching a 26-4 spurt around that locker room
stopover. Coach Tubby Smith spent most of the night
in his seat, not finding any reason to stomp his foot.
Mario Moore scored 18 points to pace Vandy, which needed
a late spurt just to reach 35 percent shooting (21-of-60).
Vandy's frustration was epitomized by the final play
of the half. Corey Smith was driving for an uncontested
layup but lost track of the clock, the buzzer going
off before he could release the ball.
Maybe he was better off holding on. The Commodores
missed 10 of 11 shots to end the first half, seven of
eight to start the second.
Kentucky is seeking its 24th SEC tournament title,
already holding more than the other 11 schools combined.
By beating Vandy, the Wildcats took care of one of the
few blemishes on the tourney blotter.
The Commodores were the only team that didn't have
a losing record to Kentucky, splitting six previous
meetings. Now, they've joined the rest.
Vanderbilt was coming off an 82-69 upset of Alabama
in the opening round. The Commodores snapped a nine-game
losing streak and may have knocked the Crimson Tide,
a former No. 1, out of the NCAA tournament.
Against Kentucky, which might be the next No. 1, Vanderbilt
never had a chance to start a winning streak.