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By LARRY VAUGHT
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings says almost every Kentucky-Vanderbilt game has been “intense” and he expects more of the same Saturday.
The game could haveÂ a big impact on NCAA Tournament seedings for both teams. A Kentucky win should all but assure the Cats a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney even if they stumble at Florida. For Vanderbilt, it would be a resume-builder and enhance the team’s NCAA seed.
But Stallings knows how hard it can be to win in Rupp Arena. No current Vanderbilt player has won there even though the Commodores had a chance last year before falling 68-66.
So how hard is winning in Rupp Arena, a spot where John Calipari has not lost since taking over three years ago as UK’s coach?
“It’s very intimidating to begin with,” Stallings said. “There’s 24,000 people. (Memorial Gym’s) an intimidating place and there’s 14,000. So you imagine another 10,000 people in one building, all wearing blue. And that doesn’t even begin to talk about their players and how good they are. What is so difficult about playing there? Everything.”
Don’t forget, though, that Vandy is 5-5 in the last 10 games against Kentucky and had a chance to win in Nashville after falling behind by 14 points as part of the ESPN GameDay experience. Vandy got the lead back, but didn’t score the final four minutes.
“I think I was a little too pumped up. I struggled in the first half because I was a little too hyper and was thinking about it too much. This time I’m going to work on staying more calm.Â We’re excited to see how much better we are since the last time. We didn’t play our best basketball in the last four minutes. We’re in an upswing right now, playing pretty well. We have to keep it going,” Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli said.
Kentucky (27-1, 13-0) got it going at the right time at Mississippi State Tuesday to overcome a 13-point halftime deficit and win 73-64.
“I watched their game against Mississippi State and that second half was about the most impressive thing I’ve seen in college basketball this year. They were absolutely terrific and really showed why they are the program and the team that they are. There aren’t many teams that could have done what they did that night and I was extremely impressed,” Stallings said.