LEXINGTON, Ky. | Jodie Meeks scored 21 points and Kentucky's defense suffocated Vanderbilt in a 70-60 victory in the Southeastern Conference opener for both schools on Saturday.
Ramon Harris added 12 points and seven rebounds while making all five of his shots and the Wildcats (12-4, 1-0) held the Commodores (11-4, 0-1) to just 31.6 percent shooting (18 of 57) in snapping Vanderbilt's six-game winning streak.
Jermaine Beal led Vanderbilt with 18 points and Jeffery Taylor had 15 points and 11 rebounds, but the Commodores struggled without leading scorer A.J. Ogilvy. The sophomore dressed but watched the entire game from the bench after aggravating a heel injury on Friday.
The Wildcats took control during a 21-4 run early in the second half. Meeks helped get it started by banking in a 3-pointer and Harris finished it with a putback that gave Kentucky a 55-35 lead. The Commodores got as close as six in the final minute, but Kentucky made its free throws to avoid a late-game collapse.
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Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie worried about how his team — which has struggled with turnovers all season — would handle Vanderbilt's defense. The Commodores entered the game second in the county in field goal percentage, allowing opponents to shoot just 35.6 percent from the floor.
The Wildcats, however, had little trouble getting good shots despite an off night by star center Patrick Patterson, who finished with 11 points — eight below his average — and a season-low one rebound in 27 minutes.
No biggie. Patterson's teammates helped fill in the gaps, a good sign for a team that's relied a little too heavily on Patterson and Meeks to carry the load during the season.
Perry Stevenson scored 10 points and Michael Porter added eight points as Kentucky's depth and defense frustrated the inexperienced Commodores.
Vanderbilt started three freshmen and brought two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior off the bench. Kentucky's pressure and the raucous din at Rupp Arena seemed to bother the Commodores after a hot start, and Vanderbilt turned it over 15 times while handing out just nine assists.
Kentucky trailed by as many as seven early before a 12-2 run over the last five minutes of the first half gave the Wildcats a 31-27 lead at the break. Kentucky made the surge without Patterson, who sat the last 10 minutes of the half after picking up his second foul.
In stepped Stevenson, who had played erratically against quality opponents this year and failed to emerge as a third scoring option behind Patterson and Meeks. No matter. He hit a layup late in the half that gave the Wildcats the lead and Porter followed it up with an off-balance 18-footer as the shot clock expired.
The win restored a sense of order in a series the Wildcats have dominated for years. Vanderbilt entered the game having won five of the last six in the series, including a 41-point win in Nashville last year that marked Kentucky's worst loss in SEC history.
The Wildcats never came close to returning the favor, but the emphatic victory — even against the undermanned and inexperienced Commodores — gives Kentucky some momentum heading into a showdown on Tuesday at No. 15 Tennessee. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, hopes Ogilvy is ready when the Commodores host Georgia on Wednesday.