Vanderbilt outlasts Ole Miss, will take on UK for SEC title

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Step right up and take your best shot at No. 1 Kentucky. Vanderbilt will get another chance on Sunday afternoon.

The Commodores outlasted Ole Miss in the semifinal round of the SEC tournament, 65-53, and will now move to the championship game to face the top-ranked Wildcats for the right to an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

Kentucky came from behind to beat Florida on Saturday afternoon to secure their spot in the title game.

John Jenkins started slow for Vanderbilt, shooting 0-of-5 from the floor, but finished strong, going 7-of-11 for 23 points.

Now it’s set. The only SEC team that was able to hang tough with Kentucky twice will get a third shot at the Wildcats with the conference title on the line.

And Vanderbilt does it with mix of the inside and outside game, a unique combination that, because of its rarity, is part of the reason Kentucky has been so impressive in 2011-12.

On the perimeter, the Commodores have three players who shoot above 40% from three-point range, led by Jenkins and forward Jeffery Taylor.

But that alone can’t sink the Wildcats.

Festus Ezeli, now fully recovered from the injury problems he suffered earlier in the year, and Lance Goulbourne anchor the middle and do well to compete with the size and athleticism that Kentucky brings.

Ezeli averaged 14 points and six rebounds in two games against the Wildcats.

The biggest problem, as it has been for other teams when playing John Calipari’s team, is that late-game clamp-down that allows the Wildcats to claw back.

If Vanderbilt can hit their shots from the outside, come close to staying even with Kentucky on the boards, and avoid a defensive letdown in the final stretch of the game, the Commodores could pull the upset.

But, hey, it’s easier said than done.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_