No. 1 Kentucky holds off Vanderbilt

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Freshman Anthony Davis again found himself with the ball and only a few seconds left to react. The 6-foot-10 forward squared up, burying a long jumper that buoyed his national player of the year push in one superb sequence.

Davis scored a career-high 28 points on 10-of-11 shooting, and No. 1 Kentucky beat Vanderbilt 83-74 on Saturday to win the Southeastern Conference regular season title for the 45th time.

“Whatever they gave me, I fed off of it,” Davis said. “I don’t think I had a lob today and we still came out and executed the way we wanted to.”

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, however, and needed a late surge to put away the scrappy Commodores.

Davis, who had 11 rebounds and five blocks, hit an 18-foot jumper as the shot clock expired with 1:06 left. Terrence Jones added a dunk, and Davis blocked Lance Goulbourne’s shot with 31 seconds to go to put the game away and maybe the question of who is the nation’s best player.

“It’d be great to get the award, but at the same time my main focus is to win a national championship,” Davis said.

festus275web22512.jpgIf history is any indication, the Wildcats may be on the right track if they finish a perfect season in the SEC with wins on Thursday night against Georgia and on the road against Florida next Sunday.

Only two teams since 1956 have finished league play undefeated — Kentucky in 1996 and 2003. The 1996 team went on to win a national title, and the ’03 group lost in the regional finals to Marquette.

This team, which starts three freshmen and two sophomores, expects to play for a national title in April and hasn’t lost since a buzzer-beating shot at Indiana on Dec. 10.

That’s why there was no prolonged on-court celebration of yet another conference crown.

“It’s just another step to the main goal,” Jones said. “It’s just something we have to do to continue to get better and to improve. We take it, but we’re not happy or satisfied with it.”

Kentucky’s fellow freshmen also chipped in. Point guard Marquis Teague scored 16 points, and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had eight points and eight rebounds before fouling out for the Wildcats, who trailed at halftime at home for just the second time this year.

Jeffery Taylor scored 19 points for Vanderbilt (20-9, 9-5), and John Jenkins added 15 of his 18 points in the second half as Vanderbilt proved to be a big test, taking a 37-36 halftime lead.

Davis scored the first two baskets of the second half as two fans held up a sign in the student section that said “Big Blue Brow” and Kentucky never trailed again.

“He did whatever he wanted to do,” said Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli, who had 15 points. “I didn’t offer much of a resistance and he played very well today.”

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 Wildcats 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,” Goulbourne said. “Especially when you are playing from a deficit and trying to take a lead.”

Teague added one of two free throws and Jones made two more that gave the Wildcats a 71-65 lead with 2:42 to go. The Commodores managed to foul out Kidd-Gilchrist but missed free throws in bunches late.

Taylor missed two and Ezeli missed one of two with 2:30 left as the Commodores went 5 of 11 in the second half.

Miller answered with a floater. After Jenkins drove for an uncontested layup, Davis hit the 18-footer that gave Kentucky a 75-68 lead with 1:06 left as the Wildcats finished with a flourish thanks to Jones and Davis’ big block.

“I’ve been holding him back,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said with a smile. “I’m trying to get him to stay in school another year.”

Not likely for Davis, who could be the No. 1 pick of June’s NBA draft.

Kentucky led by as many as eight 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 early in the first half. Davis hit two free throws, but Tinsley answered with 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 as they did against the Tar Heels, Kentucky made sure it didn’t last long.

“They made their run,” Davis said. “(But) we always keep our heads in the game.”