By LARRY VAUGHT
It’s not hard for Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings to explain why Kentucky faces such raucous crowds every time it goes on the road, especially in Southeastern Conference play.
“They dominated the league forever. They face that buzz where they go,” said Stallings when asked about the atmosphere in Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium for tonight’s Southeastern Conference opener against Kentucky. “They are the hunted.”
He noted that UK had won more SEC championships than every other league member combined.
“When you are dominant like that, of course people get excited to beat you,” Stallings said. “They face that wherever they do. Our fans love it when Kentucky comes to town. They have a great program and great tradition and I think all of us aspire to have some of the success they have had. Not only coaches and players, but fans alike. That is what creates a different atmosphere when they come to town. It is always a great challenge to play them and beat them. It is a great way for us to start the conference season. If you can win a game like that it can catapult you forward.”
Stallings mistakenly though UK senior guard Julius Mays played against Vandy last year — Mays transferred to UK from Wright State this season. But Mays knows this could be a difficult game.
“It’s good for school to be back in and for us to start to play on a more consistent basis. Instead of having to practice against each other and beating up on each other, we can do it on another team,” Mays said. “I’ve never played there but I’ve watched it on TV and I expect it to be a big crowd and it to be loud.””
Stallings said beating UK in last year’s SEC Tournament final before the Cats went on to win the national title was “very meaningful” for Vanderbilt and the Commodores will toast that feat before tonight’s game.
“But it takes great performances like that to beat teams with great talent and that is the kind of performance we will need again. They have great talent. It’s young talent, but last year’s team was young talent and they won the national championship,” Stallings said.
Kentucky freshman Archie Goodwin believes the non-conference schedule that include road losses at Notre Dame and Louisville along with a neutral court loss to No. 1 Duke has UK ready for SEC play.
“The losses that we took on the road were tough ones. But we grew from them each time. I think that it has been able to help us out a lot,” Goodwin said. “We were a lot more competitive against Louisville then we were against Notre Dame and that just came from us doing this coach Cal (Calipari) stuff. Hopefully we can continue to do what we’ve been doing.”