Looking back at Vanderbilt-Kentucky clashes

Jan. 22, 2014

Commodore History Corner Archive

Vanderbilt has been playing the University of Kentucky in basketball since the 1911-12 season. The university was known at the time as Kentucky State, defeating the Commodores twice, 28-17 and 22-18.

With the arrival of Adolph Rupp in 1930 the Wildcats have been a perennial power in the SEC -- dominant in most years. Vanderbilt has faced Kentucky numerous times while the Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the country.

A source for this story is Ryan Schulz from Vanderbilt athletic communications, who compiled "60 Seasons of Memorial Magic" that appeared on vucommodores.com during the 2011-12 basketball season. This is a look back on those contests and other great games in Memorial Gym with the 'Cats.

March 3, 1951 -- This would be the first time Vanderbilt defeated a No. 1 ranked Kentucky team - in the title game of the SEC Tournament. The tournament was played in the Jefferson Armory in Louisville, Ky. The Commodores entered the game 18-8 after defeating Tennessee, Georgia and LSU earlier in the tournament. Bob Polk was in his fourth season leading the Commodores. The Tennessean reported:

Heldman"Vanderbilt's Commodores became basketball's Cinderella last night as they fought from behind to upset the nation's top team, Kentucky's Wildcats, 61-57 in the finals of the Southeastern conference tournament. The victory came before a shocked highly partisan crowd of 7,000 who showed up as a course of habit to watch the men of Adolph Rupp conquer another sacrificial lamb but who left too numb to ask, much less figure out what happened.

"The victory was doubly sweet coming here in the 'Cats lair where they had taken eight straight SEC tournament championships and were shooting for their 13th since the conference was formed. It was climactic to an uphill fight all the way as might be expected when you dump the nation's top team. The Commodores came from behind a 10-point deficit in the second period to spill the team Coach Adolph Rupp unhesitatingly called the best he's ever coached.

"Jack Heldman, too, the key to Vandy's success in recent games, turned in a well-rounded game, his seventh straight. It was Jack who showed the Cats at the start that they might be in for trouble when he fired home a couple of quick baskets in the opening period."

Scoring for the Commodores were Bob Dudley Smith 15, Captain George Kelley 8, Gene Southwood 14, Dave Kardokus 13 and Heldman. For the Wildcats scoring came from Bill Spivey 21, Shelby Linville 13, Frank Ramsey 9, Robert Watson 7 and Walter Hirsch 6.

A reserve on that Wildcats' team was C.M. Newton a future head coach at Vanderbilt (1982-89). It had been declared the previous season that the regular season SEC champ would represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky went on to win the national championship after losing in the SEC title game.

January 6, 1959--Legendary Coach Roy Skinner was in his first season as Vanderbilt head coach, but on an interim basis. Head Coach Bob Polk sat out the season after suffering a heart attack the previous fall. Rupp and his Kentucky squad arrived in Nashville as the defending national champions and had won 16 games in row including 11 that season. The Tennessean reported:

"Vanderbilt's basketball team, revved up by a twisting, squirming, talented southpaw named Jim Henry, astonished Kentucky's No. 1 ranked Wildcats, 75 to 66, last night before 7,500 fans at Memorial Gymnasium.

"In compounding the miracle, Henry poured in 29 points. He got 15 of them in the first half when the Commodores pulled on top, 41-27. As matters grew tense in the second half and the defending national champion Wildcats fought desperately to gain possession of the ball, Captain Henry hit 10 of 12 pressurized free throws.

"He finished it with an all-alone crip shot with 20 seconds remaining as the anticipated massacre of the Commodores wound up in a swarm of hilarious fans who surged onto the floor and carried the stars and their coach, Roy Skinner to the dressing room."

Said Skinner, "Jim Henry's performance was the greatest individual effort I've seen, but don't forget that every man we used did his job."

Vanderbilt's Ben Rowen added 14 points while Doug Yates chipped in 10. Other Commodores playing in the game were Don Hinton, Bill Depp, Warren Fiser and Larry Banks. Kentucky's Billy Lickert recorded 14 points to lead the Wildcats while Benny Coffman added 12. Vanderbilt finished the season 14-10 (8-6 SEC).

January 6, 1964--Coach Skinner was in his third season as Vanderbilt's head coach (after Polk's retirement). The Commodores entered the game 10-1 and Rupp's 'Cats were 10-1. The Tennessean reported:

"John Ed Miller's last-second jump shot from the top of the foul circle blew the lid off an air-tight battle last night as Vanderbilt crumpled Kentucky, 85-83, before a full-house crowd of 7,324 at Memorial Gymnasium. Miller's basket, coming 10 seconds after Kentucky acquired the rip-snorting duel on Larry Conley's crip, evened Vanderbilt's Southeastern Conference mark at 1-1. The defeat was Kentucky's second straight.

"The Wildcats ranked second in the nation this morning, went into the final five furious minutes holding a 79-75 lead. But sophomore Keith Thomas, a Louisville youngster, popped in six of Vandy's next eight points as the Commodores battled back to go on top, 83-81, with 22 seconds left.

"The Cats called time and when play resumed, Conley blew under for his layup on a perfectly-executed play. Then, it was Vandy's turn to call time and set up its last shot plans. This play too worked to perfectly.

"Miller took the ball in bounds with six seconds left. He dribbled toward the foul line, and when he caught Wildcat Charles Ishmael retreating too rabidly, John Ed stopped, jumped and fired. The ball was on perfect line all the way, and only the bottom of the net flicked as the shot went trough, sending the seventh-ranked Commodores record to 11-1 for the season.

"A tremendous effort!" was Roy Skinner's post-game appraisal. "We worked hard all night and deserved the game."

"You gotta hand it to those Vanderbilt boys," commented Adolph Rupp. "We had them beat and they took it away from us."

"Actually had Vanderbilt lost the game the Commodores might never forgotten themselves. At one stage in the first half, Vandy was in front of the highly-regarded Wildcats by 12 points."

Roger Schurig had 22 points for the Commodores, Miller 18, Clyde Lee 15, Keith Thomas 8, Wayne Calvert 8 and Bob "Snake" Grace added six. Kentucky was led by Mickey Gibson 19, Ted Deeken 16, Larry Conley 15, Cotton Nash 15 and Ishmael 10. Vanderbilt concluded the season 19-6 (8-6 SEC).

January 13, 1993--Vanderbilt, coached by Eddie Fogler, faced Rick Pitino and his No. 1 ranked Wildcats in Memorial Gymnasium. The Commodores won 101 to 86. The Tennessean reported:

Billy McCaffrey"Vanderbilt slew another giant last night in Memorial Gym--Hoop's House of Horrors--stunning No. 1 Kentucky 101-86. The victory was recorded before a rafter-rattling sellout crowd of 15, 317, a portion of which mobbed the team in a wild midcourt celebration.

"It's a good win for Vanderbilt; offensively we were really terrific," said Commodore Coach Eddie Fogler, whose 12-3 team snapped a two-game losing streak. "I'm really proud of this team after a heartbreaking loss last Saturday at Florida and play this way.

"I can't begin to tell you how impressed I am with Vanderbilt," said Cats Coach Rick Pitino. "They are a very cerebral team. You not only have to play with your heart against Vanderbilt, you have to play with your head.

"The loss was the first in 12 games this season for the Wildcats and their first defeat since last season's loss to Duke. It probably means that UK's view from atop the national rankings will be short-lived; the Cats had moved into the penthouse Monday.

"We felt going in that we could at least give them a good game," said junior guard Billy McCaffrey, who led the Commodore charge with 22 points and dished out a school-record 14 assists. As the game went on we realized that we could win it.

"Chris Lawson contributed 19 points, Ronnie McMahan 16 and Bruce Elder 10. Dan Hall came of the bench for eight points and a game-high nine rebounds. Travis Ford and Rodrick Rhodes each scored 18 for Kentucky, while mighty Jamal Mashburn was held to just 14 after averaging 23.4."

Vanderbilt finished the season 28-6 (14-2, SEC 14-2) the most wins in Commodore basketball history. They lost in the first round to Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament 70-60. Fogler was named SEC and National Coach of the Year for his effort.

March 11, 2012--Coach John Calipari's Kentucky club rolled right through the SEC regular season undefeated 16-0 as it entered the SEC Tournament with a No. 1 ranking in the nation. But in the title game for the SEC Tournament Vanderbilt decided enough was enough as they upset the Wildcats in New Orleans, 71-64, to snap Kentucky's 24-game win streak. It was the Commodores' first SEC tournament championship in 60 years. Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings brought the Commodores to the championship game after a first round bye, and defeating Georgia and Ole Miss.

Jeffery Taylor scored 13 first half points and John Jenkins' three 3-pointers gave the Commodores a 26-18 lead, but settled for a 37-37 tie at halftime. Vanderbilt showed more energy in the first half even though Wildcat fans took over the SEC tournament in the New Orleans Arena, making it a second Rupp Arena.

In the second half, Kentucky was up 54-49 and appeared on its way to another win. However after a dunk by Darius Miller at the 8:04 mark the 'Cats missed 14 straight shots from the field. The Commodores worked their way back from a seven-point deficit to tie the game at 62 when Festus Ezeli recorded a tip-in with 1:56 left and took the lead for good with a 3-point play by Kedren Johnson. Vanderbilt went on a 16-2 run in the final five minutes to seal the victory.

"Their 24-game winning streak, their name on the front of their jersey doesn't matter to me, "said Lance Goulbourne. "Whoever was in our way, we were going to play as hard as we could to try to win that championship.

Added Taylor, "We all played really solid defense all game. The coaches came up with a great game plan and we followed that for the most part. Also you have to be a little lucky. They missed some open looks."

An emotional Stallings sat on the bench by himself after the game with a towel buried in his face. Taylor had 18 points and 11 rebounds, Jenkins added 17 points, Ezeli 17, Goulbourne 6, Johnson 6 and Brad Tinsley 5. Kentucky was led in scoring by Miller 16, Anthony Davis 12, Terrance Jones 12, Doron Lamb 11 and Kyle Wiltjer 8.

Vanderbilt finished the season 25-11 (10-6 SEC) beating Harvard in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but losing to Wisconsin in the next round. Kentucky did not lose another game and won the national championship.

These are other memorable games against Kentucky at Memorial Gym that appeared in "60 Years of Memorial Magic:"

January 21, 1956--Vanderbilt beats No. 4 Kentucky coached by Adolph Rupp. Both teams were ranked No. 4. Vanderbilt started Babe Taylor, Bobby Tym, Al Rochelle, Charles Harrison and Jo "Hobby" Gibbs in an 81-73 win. The Commodores jumped to No. 2 after the victory.

February 16, 1965--John Ed Miller makes two free throws with 10 seconds to play to defeat Kentucky 91-90. Miller finished with 30 points and Lee had 33. The win helped pave the way for Vandy's first SEC regular-season championship.

March 1, 1969--Vanderbilt defeated No. 6 and eventual SEC champion Kentucky 101-99. The Commodores were up by nine with two minutes to play and were able to withstand a late charge by the Wildcats.

January 31, 1970--Vanderbilt defeated No. 2 Kentucky, 89-81. Tom Arnholt scored 28 points and Perry Wallace added 20 for the Commodores. Kentucky's Dan Issel poured in 26 points and Mike Pratt had 20.

January 22, 1973--Freshman and Kentucky native Joe Ford is fouled with 3 seconds left and makes two free throws to deliver a 76-75 win over Kentucky. The crowd at the time was the largest ever to see an SEC game.

March 2, 1974--Jan van Breda Kolf helped Vanderbilt beat Kentucky 71-69 to clinch the Commodores' second SEC crown. Marion Haskins from Kentucky missed a 10-footer at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime.

January 27, 1988--Vanderbilt snapped a 13-game losing streak to Kentucky with a dominating, 83-66 win over the ninth-ranked Wildcats. Kentucky native Scott Draud had 22 points and Barry Goheen had 17 as Vanderbilt shot 13-of-20 from beyond the arc. All-American Will Perdue scored 17 and Barry Booker had 14. The win was C. M. Newton's first against Kentucky in seven years of trying as Vanderbilt's head coach.

January 31, 2004--Vanderbilt upset No. 5 Kentucky 66-60. Matt Freije led Vanderbilt with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

February 12, 2008--In its most dominating performance against rival Kentucky, No.24/19 Vanderbilt rolled to a 93-52 win. Shan Foster outscored the Wildcats himself until the 13:08 mark in the second half. The 41-point win was the largest in series history and the fifth-largest loss all-time by Kentucky and its worst in conference play.

Traughber's Tidbit: If you missed the series on "60 Years of Memorial Magic" it can be located in archives on vucommodores.com. It is very well researched and the most comprehensive collection of Memorial Gym highlights (and one or two lowlights). It covers both men and women. It is a must read for any Vandy fan and will bring back memories.

If you have any comments or suggestions contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com.



Proud Sponsors of Commodore Athletics