Fifth-ranked Kentucky went 1-for-6 from the field after getting the 58-52 lead. Point guard Cliff Hawkins had three turnovers in the final three minutes. Kentucky gave up two offensive rebounds that Vanderbilt converted into four points along with a wide-open 3-pointer that Dan Cage hit with 2:18 to play that gave Vandy a 61-60 lead.
"We just did not execute," Kentucky's Erik Daniels said. "They didn't do anything different. We missed a lot of open shots we should have made."
"The last couple of minutes, they just outworked us and that is disappointing," Hawkins said. "It's no secret. We just did not do the job. They made the plays, we didn't. That's why they won and we lost."
Simple, but accurate.
Kentucky's defense was splendid after Vandy's torrid start. The Commodores were 12-for-40 from the field after their 8-for-8 start. UK also outrebounded the bigger home team 41-34. However, Kentucky's offense was anemic the last 13 minutes.
"We didn't execute properly late, but there's more pressure when you are behind," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "It should never have come to those critical moments with the lead we had, but that's been our problem all year."
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings told his team not to panic when Kentucky built a lead. The Commodores trailed UK by just two points late in the Jan. 10 game in Rupp Arena before two costly fouls and one missed rebound assignment gave Kentucky six points to put the game away.
"They will let you back to the front door, but they don't let you in," Stallings said. "Today we just made winning plays that we have not been making. Kentucky is the toughest team in the league. They just don't let you win."
3-for-15 in final 13 minutes
Yet in the final 13 minutes, here is what Kentucky's offense produced: just seven points on 3-for-15 shooting. The only points came on a layup by Chuck Hayes (who went almost 33 minutes without scoring), two shots in the lane by Hawkins and a free throw by Daniels.
Fitch, UK's leading scorer, made his last shot with 13:03 to play. Daniels, UK's second-leading scorer, didn't have a field goal the final 17 minutes. Azubuike, considered UK's second-best outside scorer, didn't have a field goal the final 18 minutes.
Still, the Cats had a 60-58 lead with 2:50 to play when Hawkins self-destructed. He threw a bad pass inside to Daniels that was intercepted and led to Cage's 3-pointer. He lost the ball dribbling inside the lane with 1:05 to play and UK down 62-60.
Finally, Vanderbilt's Russell Lakey deflected a Hawkins' pass with about 19 seconds to play and UK working for a tying or winning shot.
"When you are not getting any easy baskets, things get tough," Hawkins said. "Lakey just made an awesome play on that last steal. It was like he knew what I was going to do. Maybe I was a little lackadaisical with the pass. Once he hit it, I had no idea where the ball was. That was my fault."
Hayes took full credit for the next big blunder. Lakey missed a free throw with 17.7 seconds left after his steal, but Vanderbilt's Matt Freije went over Hayes to tip the ball back to teammate Scott Hundley. After he was fouled, Hundley made both free throws to seal the win.
"That was my fault," Hayes said. "I just didn't box him out well enough. That's a mistake that you can't make. I know better, and it cost us."
Smith knew better. The coach knew Kentucky had been fortunate to win several earlier games when it had made big plays late in games. This time the Cats couldn't survive blowing a lead against a team that was desperate for a win after losing four of five Southeastern Conference games.
"We just didn't make plays," Smith said. "We had plenty of opportunities to win. All we had to do was take care of the ball and make a few shots. We've got lucky in a couple of situations (before this season) and were able to pull a rabbit out of a hat."
But not this time, because seven points in the final 13 minutes sealed Kentucky's fate and eliminated luck from having any part in the final outcome.