LEXINGTON, Ky. – Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins did almost everything right down the stretch for Vanderbilt. The experienced Commodores still had no answers for Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis.
Davis scored a career-high 28 points on 10-of-11 shooting, and the top-ranked Wildcats beat Vanderbilt 83-74 on Saturday to win the Southeastern Conference regular season title for the 45th time.
"It seemed like every time they needed something, Davis got it done for them. He was spectacular," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "I thought our guys really showed some courage coming back."
Taylor scored 19 points for Vanderbilt (20-9, 9-5) after a four-point performance against South Carolina, and Jenkins added 15 of his 18 points in the second half in Vanderbilt's second loss to Kentucky in two weeks.
"We didn't come in here expecting to lose," Taylor said. "We came here expecting to win and they made a couple more plays than we did at the end."
Jenkins, the reigning SEC player of the week, hit a 3 that tied it at 45, but Kentucky took a 66-56 lead with 7:47 left sparked by senior Darius Miller, who hit a 3 and added a jumper that gave the Wildcats their first double-digit lead.
Vanderbilt, which starts four seniors who had won at every venue in the SEC over their four years except Rupp Arena, had one more run.
Taylor scored on a drive, and Jenkins, a junior, hit consecutive 3-pointers and one of two free throws that cut it to 66-65 with 4:22 left. Davis answered with a turnaround jumper as the shot clock expired.
"It's extremely deflating when you play 30 seconds of solid defense and they score at the end," said Vanderbilt forward Lance Goulbourne, who finished with 11 points. "Especially when you are playing from a deficit and trying to take the lead. It was disappointing."
Marquis Teague added one of two free throws and Terrence Jones made two more that gave the Wildcats a 71-65 lead with 2:42 to go. The Commodores managed to foul out Michael Kidd-Gilchrist but missed free throws in bunches late.
Taylor missed two, and Festus Ezeli, who finished with 15 points, missed one of two with 2:30 left as the Commodores went 5 of 11 in the second half. Miller then hit a floater on the other end.
The Wildcats (28-1, 14-0) have won 51 straight at home and are on a 20-game winning streak overall. Kentucky trailed at halftime and needed the late surge to put away the scrappy Commodores.
Davis had 11 rebounds and six blocks and hit an 18-foot jumper as the shot clock expired with 1:06 left. Jones added a dunk, and Davis blocked Goulbourne's shot with 31 seconds to go to put the game away.
Kentucky's fellow freshmen also chipped in. Teague scored 16 points, and Kidd-Gilchrist had eight points and eight rebounds for the Wildcats, who trailed at halftime at home for just the second time this season.
Kentucky led by as many as eight points in the first half, but the Commodores used a 9-0 run capped by three free throws by Brad Tinsley to take a 36-34 lead. Davis hit two free throws, but Tinsley made one more with 3.2 seconds left that let the Commodores join North Carolina as the only teams to have a halftime lead at Rupp Arena this season.
Just like against the Tar Heels, Davis and Kentucky made sure it didn't last long.
"He did whatever he wanted to," Ezeli said. "I didn't offer much of a resistance and he played very well today. He did a good job protecting the backset and blocking shots. He is an all-around good player."