By LARRY VAUGHT
NASHVILLE — Kedren Johnson says Kentucky-Vanderbilt is really not a rivalry, but the Vandy sophomore says the games are always fun.
“It’s just a good environment for basketball. Even before I got here, the fans got into it,” said Johnson after scoring 13 points Thursday to help the Commodores beat Arkansas 75-72 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament and advance to Friday night’s quarterfinal game against Kentucky.
The fans likely will be into the game again but it will be Kentucky fans packing Bridgestone Arena to see if the Cats can beat Vanderbilt for a third time this season. Of course, last year UK fans dominated attendance in New Orleans when Vanderbilt stunned UK in the SEC title game before the Cats went on to win the NCAA title.
“If there are 20,000 Kentucky fans, we have played in front of 24,000 (in Rupp Arena),” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “The atmosphere will not bother us. Kentucky’s players will. We are not going to worry about the fans. Our guys will compete. They are not afraid. I think we are playing our best basketball of the season.
“We just have to play to win. I don’t think Kentucky has to beat us to get in the (NCAA) tourney. I think personally they are a tourney team. But it will be a fun game.”
Stallings said perhaps his players don’t even understand whey Kentucky is always the team to beat.
“Kentucky has earned the right to everybody’s rival. I am jealous of that. They get everybody’s best shot because their program has been better,” Stallings said. “Everybody wants to beat Kentucky.”