NEW ORLEANS – John Calipari said from the time he arrived in the Big Easy that he didn't like conference tournaments.
After top-ranked Kentucky endured three tough games in as many days with no league title to show for it, his opinion wasn't bound to change any time soon.
"I wish this would have happened yesterday so we got home a day earlier," Calipari said Sunday after the Wildcats collapsed late in a 71-64 loss to Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference tournament final.
The Wildcats (32-2) won two of their three games in New Orleans but never led any by more than single digits and trailed in the second half of all three.
Still, they were on the cusp of extending their winning streak to 25 games when Anthony Davis' free throw gave them a 62-55 lead with 5:23 left. Then Kentucky suddenly started settling for jump shots, taking nine from that point and missing all of them, including five from 3-point range.
"We just went ice cold. There was like a lid on the basket. Nothing was falling for us," said freshman point guard Marquis Teague, who went scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting. "It was wide open shots that we normally make. So it was surprising us that we were missing. Some days it's like that."
Jeffery Taylor scored 18 points, John Jenkins added 17 and Vanderbilt rallied with a 16-2 run over the final 5 minutes to end the Wildcats' winning streak that lasted more than three months.
"Their 24 game winning streak. Their name on the front of their jersey doesn't matter to us," Vanderbilt's Lance Goulbourne said. "Whoever was in our way, we were going to play as hard as we could to try to win that championship."
Festus Ezeli had 17 points for Vanderbilt (24-10), which was playing in its first SEC tournament final since 1951, the year of its only other championship. The Commodores pushed ahead in the final minutes with a few timely shots, but mostly with suffocating defense.
Darius Miller scored 16 points in a surprise start for Kentucky while Terrence Jones and Davis both added 12. Davis had 10 rebounds and three blocked shots, but he got into some rare early foul trouble that limited his effectiveness.
Kentucky missed its last 14 field goals in all, not hitting one over the final 8:04. The Wildcats shot just 35.9 percent from the field (23 of 64).
"Maybe now everybody realizes we're not invincible," Calipari said. "We're like everybody else out there. We're going to have to execute, play hard and with some aggressiveness and intensity or we will get beat."
Kentucky moves on to NCAA tournament games that will mean a lot more to them, but it remains to be seen whether LSU and Florida, which both gave the Wildcats tough games, and Vanderbilt, which beat them, provided UK's future opponents with a strategic blueprint.
"We really wanted to be physical with them because we saw the success that LSU had and Florida had," Vanderbilt forward Steve Tchiengang said. "It was just being physical and try to box them out as much as we can to try to limit their second chance stuff, offensive rebounds, stuff like that."
Vanderbilt also attacked the basket offensively rather than relying on jump shots. In the process, the Commodores got Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in foul trouble, and he fouled out with 2:51 to go.
Kidd-Gilchrist had a pained expression on his face in the locker room afterward, giving short answers in hushed tones and blaming himself for getting in foul trouble and failing to get a single rebound.
Still, Kentucky appeared to be taking control when Jones' successive powerful dunks put the Wildcats up 54-49 and worked the heavily-pro Kentucky crowd into a frenzy.
Vanderbilt worked its way back to tie the game at 62 on Ezeli's tip-in with 1:56 left and took the lead for good when freshman Kedren Johnson converted a three-point play on a drive to the hoop.
The loss spoiled the Wildcats' perfect season against SEC competition. Kentucky is 18-1 against league foes.
Afterward, Calipari assured his team that they would be fine and might even be better off not carrying a long winning streak into the NCAA tournament.
Several Kentucky players said they may have been guilty of getting a little arrogant and expecting to win as the streak grew, but now should have little trouble pushing themselves a little harder when they get back in the gym.
"It'll get us more focused now," sophomore guard Doron Lamb said. "We didn't lose in a long time. Now we know how it feels and we don't like this feeling, so we're going to try to win these next six games."