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March 15, 2013

Vanderbilt bounces Kentucky from SEC Tournament

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - It was a simple enough question, but Willie Cauley-Stein could barely find the words to answer.

His Kentucky team - perched on the NCAA Tournament bubble - team had just been stunned and shellacked in a Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinal Friday, losing to 64-48 to Vanderbilt, and Cauley-Stein, sitting at his locker, had been asked if he was nervous about Selection Sunday.

"I don't feel anything," Cauely-Stein said. "I'm still in shock. It's all surreal to me. What happens happens. There's nothing we can do about it anymore."

He wasn't alone in his shock - the many blue-clad fans in the crowd at Bridgestone Arena left in stunned silence - nor in his come-what-may approach. Kentucky entered Friday night knowing that a win against Vanderbilt all but sealed an NCAA Tournament.

It left assured of nothing but tense moments between the final horn and Sunday's selection show.

"If we're in, we'll play better, and if we're not, we're not," Calipari said. "I mean, there's nothing we can do about it. We had an opportunity, it was in our hands to take it out of everybody's hands and we didn't take care of business."

Calipari isn't prone to understatement, but that was one.

With its NCAA Tournament hopes perhaps on the line, Kentucky (21-11) was shellshocked. Vanderbilt (16-16) made 5-of-8 three-pointers in the first half, shot 50 percent for the game, trailed only once (at 6-5 in the opening minutes) and led from the 12:42 mark of the first half.

"It's always tough playing anyone three times," forward Kyle Wiltjer said of the Commodores, who Kentucky beat twice in the regular season. "We got to give them credit. But we just didn't show up to play. That's the bottom line."

It was a baffling bottom line.

With so much to play for, the Wildcats got tense and the rims got tight.

The Cats shot 34.6 percent for the game, shot 4-for-14 from three-point range, missed half of their 16 free throws and went long stretches without scoring.

Point guard Ryan Harrow missed 13 of his 15 field-goal attempts, many from point-blank range. Kentucky broke down on defense. Cauley-Stein was 2-for-6 and missed all four of his second-half shots in the paint.

As the missed shots piled up, Kentucky's defense broke down.

"It is (natural), but then you got to fight it," Cualey-Stein said. "That's been our problem the whole year. When we're not playing good on offense, we kind of get down on ourselves and our defense suffers for it."

It happened again on Friday at an inopportune time.

Though Vanderbilt had control of the game, Kentucky made things interesting in one second-half stretch, pulling within 48-37 on a ferocious dunk with 12:43 to play by Archie Goodwin, who led UK with 12 points.

But Vandy answered with five straight points, and Kentucky never threatened again.

So now instead of a semifinal game, the Cats play the waiting game.

"It is a little frustrating," forward Alex Poythress said. "We had the thing in our hands. We were going to control where we were going to be. Now we've got to wait and put it in somebody else's hands."


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