LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)Shots finally started falling again for Jordan Wright, whose boldest attempt came with the game on the line.
Wright hit a go-ahead fall-away jumper in the lane with 2.6 seconds remaining to finish with 23 points, and Vanderbilt topped No. 23 Kentucky 68-66 on Wednesday night for its first win at Rupp Arena since January 2007.
Jubilation followed for Vanderbilt and the senior reserve guard, who was eager to break out after a scoreless outing against Florida and just 15 points the previous three games. Some advice from Vandy coach Jerry Stackhouse helped.
“He said that (after) the last game, I could pick it up and that’s what I did tonight,” said Wright, who finished with a career high in points. “I came out, stayed focused, kept doing my work and kept my routine. And it showed tonight.”
The surging Commodores (17-13, 10-7 Southeastern Conference) earned their seventh win in eight games and are 7-3 since losing to Kentucky 69-53 on Jan. 24 in Nashville. Their run has included a home upset of then-No. 6 Tennessee and a sweep of Florida, providing confidence to win a tense game in one of the sport’s loudest environments and snapping a 14-game series drought.
Vanderbilt trailed 26-21 late in the first half before leading 34-30 at halftime and 46-35 early in the second before withstanding Kentucky’s rally for a 66-64 advantage with 1:10 left on Oscar Tshiebwe’s layup.
Wright answered with a drive from the right wing to tie the game with 42 seconds left, and Tyrin Lawrence grabbed Antonio Reeves’ missed jumper with 20 seconds left. Vanderbilt let the clock run and Wright took a pass from near midcourt and dribbled to just inside the free-throw line, spun and fell back with the game winner.
“It feels great and it was a game that we knew we had to win to keep our hopes alive for March Madness,” Wright added. “Every game is a huge game for us, but this is one that we needed.”
Antonio Reeves’ 3-point attempt missed the rim altogether as time expired. Kentucky had won its previous four and re-entered the rankings on Monday for the first time in seven weeks.
Tshiebwe finished with 21 points and 20 rebounds for the Wildcats (20-10, 11-6). Reeves added 14 points.
“He’s a load down there, but our guys just continued to battle,” Stackhouse said of Tshiebwe. “We still have a lot of basketball ahead of us, but we’re just happy about tonight, coming in, having something to play for this time of the year. And beating the King at its house is pretty special.”
Wright made all four 3-point attempts and 8 of 12 overall for a season high total. Lawrence added 21 points and Quentin Millora-Brown 10, including a buzzer-beating 3 to close the first half.
Vanderbilt won without 7-footer Liam Robbins, who injured his lower right leg early in the game after landing awkwardly while going for a rebound. He also missed the first meeting with an injury.
Stackhouse said Robbins would be evaluated.
Kentucky freshman guard Cason Wallace left the game early in the second half with a leg injury. Coach John Calipari said there was no swelling and hoped Wallace would be “OK” for Saturday’s regular-season finale.
The loss spoiled the presumed home finales for Tshiebwe, the reigning consensus national player of the year, and five other seniors.
Tshiebwe naturally received the loudest cheers in a pregame ceremony that also recognized forwards Jacob Toppin and Brennan Canada, guards Antonio Reeves, CJ Fredrick and injured Sahvir Wheeler, who was absent after having a medical procedure on his ankle earlier in the day. Wheeler was represented by Calipari’s wife, Ellen, who wore the point guard’s No. 2 jersey. The coach said afterward that Wheeler would be out a couple of weeks.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores didn’t flinch or panic, even after Robbins limped off the floor and didn’t return. They simply started hitting from deep as usual to seize momentum and spread Kentucky out on defense. They also made 8 of 24 from deep and finished 40% overall from the field.
Kentucky: The Wildcats overachieved just to get their lead, and it just got harder after they yielded it by failing to stop Vandy’s outside game. They missed 10 of their first 11 from behind the arc and finished just 3 of 19 from long distance. Kentucky was also 25 of 35 from the line, missing several key attempts down the stretch.
“When you shoot the way we shot today, you’re going to lose a lot of games,” said Calipari, whose team finished at 32%. “We got open shots, a lot of misses. We missed some free throws down the stretch that could have done some things.”
Vanderbilt hosts Mississippi State on Saturday.
Kentucky visits Arkansas on Saturday in its SEC regular-season finale, looking to avenge last month’s 88-73 home loss.
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