Vanderbilt, the No. 11 seed, gave Kentucky all it wanted in the first half before the Wildcats pulled away late behind the hot shooting of TyTy Washington and a high energy performance off the bench from Jacob Toppin to survive and advance.
Washington led the Wildcats with 25 points and hit key free throws in the final minute to help the Wildcats improve to 26-6 on the season. Tshiebwe scored 12 points, while Toppin and Mintz added 10 each.
Kentucky now plays Tennessee in the semifinals tomorrow afternoon on ESPN. The Wildcats split with the Volunteers during the regular season, winning at home 107-79 in January, and falling in Knoxville 76-63 in mid-February.
Vanderbilt took an early 11-7 lead before Kentucky would go on a 12-0 as Davion Mintz hit a floater to give the Wildcats a 19-11 advantage to shift the momentum.
Vanderbilt’s Scotty Pippen Jr., a first-team All-SEC guard for the second straight season, then completed a four-point play after getting fouled on a made three-pointer and hitting the free throw to cut the lead to 19-15. Two more free throws by Pippen at the 5:41 mark tied the game at 26-all.
In the final minute of the first half, Kellan Grady hit a runner in the lane and Lance Ware stole the inbounds pass and hit Mintz for a layup to give the Wildcats a 37-33 lead at halftime.
After a Tshiebwe basket started the second half, Vanderbilt would go on a 13-0 run that included three consecutive three pointers to pull ahead 46-39 before Kentucky responded with a three by Grady, a basket by Brooks and two free throws by Tshiebwe to tie the game again at 46-all.
Vandy would pull ahead 47-46 on a free throw before Kentucky would score the next eight points as a corner three by Washington put the Wildcats ahead 54-47 with 12:08 remaining.
A Vanderbilt layup pulled the Commodores within one as Kentucky led 59-58 with 7:10 remaining before a Wheeler jumper and back-to-back threes by Washington extended the lead to 64-58 as the Wildcats held on for the win.
With the victory, UK coach John Calipari is now 24-5 in SEC Tournament games and ties Tubby Smith for third-most SEC Tournament wins in league history.
TyTy Washington was on fire in the second half, hitting some clutch shots to lift the Wildcats into Saturday’s semifinal against Tennessee. While others played well, there’s no question Kentucky needs this kind of TyTy to actually make the Final Four and potentially win it all. So that is why he is tonight’s MVP, but there are others who deserve praise.
Sahvir Wheeler was also outstanding against the Commodores, finishing with 11 assists to go with eight points.
Tshiebwe, recently named the Sporting News’ National Player of the Year, finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds and was once again a force against Vanderbilt in the post.
Through games on March 5, Tshiebwe leads the country in rebounding (15.3), offensive rebounds per game (5.3), offensive rebounding percentage (.199) and defensive rebound percentage (.350). He is second in the country with 26 double-doubles.