'Cats too much for Vandy
Published: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 2:24 a.m.
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Kelenna Azubuike, Gerald Fitch and Erik Daniels each scored 16 points and No. 7 Kentucky opened defense of its Southeastern Conference title with a 75-63 victory over No. 20 Vanderbilt on Saturday night.
Kentucky (10-1) committed 23 turnovers but held off a second-half rally by the Commodores (12-1, 1-1 SEC), who had been off to the best start in school history.
Kentucky, which went 16-0 in the SEC last season and also won the league tournament, has not lost to Vanderbilt in 27 games at Rupp Arena since the facility opened during the 1976-77 season.
The Wildcats have won 16 of their last 17 SEC openers and 22 of their last 23 games against Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt, which lost by 62 points at Kentucky last season, cut a 13-point deficit to 57-55 on Matt Freije's three-point play with 5:52 left, but Kentucky scored 11 of the next 13 points.
A driving, off-balance, left-handed shot by Cliff Hawkins gave Kentucky a 68-57 lead with 3:24 left, and the Commodores came no closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Azubuike matched his career high in points and grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds.
Daniels, who scored or assisted on Kentucky's first seven baskets, added seven rebounds and four assists, and Fitch had six assists. The Wildcats recorded assists on 20 of their 27 baskets.
Hawkins, the point guard, added 12 points and seven rebounds for Kentucky, which shot 54 percent from the field. Kentucky outrebounded the Commodores 42-23.
Freije, the SEC's preseason player of the year, missed his first five shots from the field and didn't score until 8 minutes into the second half. He finished with 13 points.
Mario Moore and Scott Hundley each scored 15 points for Vanderbilt, which went 5-of-23 from 3-point range (21.7 percent), 15 percent lower than its season average.
Kentucky led 15-3 and then 27-15 with 5:40 left in the first half. But the Wildcats' 14 first-half turnovers allowed Vanderbilt to rally, even though Freije's only shot of the half was an air ball. Vanderbilt closed the half on a 17-7 run and trailed only 34-32.
An 8-0 run to open the second half extended Kentucky's lead to 10 points, and Kentucky led 48-35 with 14:40 left.
The game was only the second outside of Nashville this season for Vanderbilt, which has played 10 home games.
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