NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Kevin Stallings made his Vanderbilt Commodores go to class Friday. Then they hit the court a few hours later and put together their best game this season.
And they put a serious dent in Kentucky's hopes of having at least a chance to defend its national title in the process.
Dai-Jon Parker scored 12 points, and Vanderbilt beat Kentucky 64-48 Friday night in a rematch of last year's Southeastern Conference tournament championship won by the Commodores.
"It's been a long time since I've been as proud of a team as I am this team here," Stallings said. "I'm very proud of this team and very proud of this season, and we're 16-16. That's the first time we've been .500 in about five months. But you know what? I wish it was better than that, but very proud of them."
Actually, Vandy was 6-6 at the start of SEC play before losing to Kentucky. Now the 10th-seeded Commodores have won six of their last seven in giving Stallings his 400th career victory, and they will play either Missouri or Mississippi in their fourth straight semifinal on Saturday.
"Each day the games get more fun," Vandy junior Rod Odom said. "I'm sure it'll be a great opportunity and a great experience for us tomorrow."
Kentucky (21-11) came in as a bubble team projected possibly as a play-in candidate after coach John Calipari sent six players to the NBA last summer and tried reloading yet again with another top recruiting class. But Nerlens Noel had surgery earlier this week to fix his torn ACL, and the Wildcats couldn't match the intensity of the Commodores.
Calipari said his Wildcats "laid an egg," while Vandy played well.
"The good news is everyone seems to be losing," Calipari said. "I just hope we're the best of the bad right now. That's what I'm hoping."
Now the Wildcats will have to wait until Sunday's selection show just like so many other teams hoping they did enough to earn one of the 68 NCAA tournament berths. Calipari said they didn't take care of business when they had an opportunity to take the decision out of someone else's hands.
Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein pointed out the three wins over ranked teams, including Missouri.
"And Missouri is in it," Cauley-Stein said. "I don't see why we can't compete in it neither. It's just a matter of getting our stuff together."
Kevin Bright scored 11 points, Kedren Johnson and Kyle Fuller had 10 apiece. Vanderbilt (16-16) shot 50 percent overall, hitting 8 of 17 3-pointers.
Archie Goodwin led Kentucky with 12 points, and Kyle Wiltjer had 10. Ryan Harrow was 2 of 15 for four points as Kentucky was held to a season-low in points. The Wildcats outrebounded Vandy 32-30 but just couldn't keep up with how well the Commodores shot the ball.
"We gave them a lot of open 3s, and we gave them a lot of easy lanes to the basket," Goodwin said.
Harrow sat in the locker room with a towel on top of his head upset at his play.
"I got shots that I wanted to get, and I just was missing them," Harrow said. "I just apologize. It's my fault. I apologized to my team."
The Commodores also lost their top six players off the team that won the school's first tourney title in 61 years with three also in the NBA. Their growing pains have been such that winning is the only way to keep playing, and now they improved to 5-4 in this tourney against Kentucky.
They came out and hit 18 of their first 27 shots, including their first five of the second half, in building a 48-27 lead. Kentucky clawed back with 10 straight points, the last a high-flying dunk by Goodwin to pull within 48-37 with 12:43 to go. Then the Wildcats went cold, not hitting another field goal until Alex Poythress' layup with 7:31 remaining made it 53-41 because Vandy suddenly couldn't hit after a Kevin Bright 3-pointer with 11:22 left.
Johnson hit two free throws followed by a 3-pointer from Sheldon Jeter to push the lead back to 17 with 6:00 left, and Kentucky didn't threaten again. Stallings was able to pull his starters in the final minute for an ovation, and the Dores finally could hear their much smaller group of fans with the Kentucky supporters stunned into silence.
"It was really fun to like hear that crowd, hear all those people like not say a word," Fuller said. "All you could hear was our Vandy fans, and it was great to be there. It was great to feel."
Kentucky swept Vanderbilt in the regular season, but the Wildcats won both games by a combined six points. The Commodores weren't happy about a 60-58 loss Jan. 10 at Memorial Gym where officials missed a late shot clock violation on a key bucket by Noel.
Even though this game is only a couple miles away from Vanderbilt's campus, Wildcats' fans turned Bridgstone Arena into Rupp South filled with blue from the court up to the rafters.
The atmosphere only seemed to rev up the Commodores.
"We knew from last year when we played there would be a lot of blue in there," Odom said. "That's always more fun."
Kentucky led twice, the last on a reverse layup by Goodwin at 6-5. Shelby Moats hit a 3 from the top of the key for Vandy, then Cauley-Stein dunked to tie it up at 8. Odom scored on a layup putting Vandy up 10-8 with 12:42 to go. Kentucky got within two three times, the last at 18-16 with 6:22 to go on a layup by Harrow on his lone bucket of the half as he missed eight shots.
Vanderbilt finished the half on a 20-7 run as the Commodores kept tipping away passes and pushing the Wildcats out away from the basket. When they had the ball, the Commodores knocked down shot after shot. Cauley-Stein picked up his second personal with 4:53 and went to the bench. Vanderbilt scored 16 of the next 23 points.
Moats capped the half as he hit a long jumper in the final seconds for a 37-23 lead before going to the bench for a chest bump with Fuller.