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By LARRY VAUGHT

What does Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings think of Kentucky going into Saturday’s game on CBS-TV?

“They are big, athletic, physical, talented. Looks like ethey are playing well to me right now. This is a very talented Kentucky team and I think they’ll be in the race the whole time. I think they have a chance to be a very, very good team,” Stallings said.
“As opposed to last year, I think this team is much more physical. It is bigger, longer and more athletic. They are really, really athletic and really big and long again. I think the physical nature of their team is different than it has been the last year or two.”
That might not be good for Vanderbilt, which is down to seven scholarship players after suspending its leading scorer for the rest of the season earlier this week.

“We have enough to continue to be competitive. We are not going to be deterred in our goals or passion for improving. You have setbacks, injuries, things that occur … lots of different things,” Stallings said. “We have some guys that are flexible and we will have to move those parts around the best we can. My job is to make the most of our team and help these guys be successful. My job hasn’t changed.

“We might have to play more zone. We have had to be mindful all season of not fouling. We will play zone, we will play man. We will do whatever to put ourselves in the best position that we can. But there is no one on our team that thinks we are dealing with a hopeless situation. We have enough to be successful.”

 

 

 

Odom One of Nation’s Most Improved Shooters
Rod Odom is quietly establishing himself as one of the nation’s top shooters, averaging 13.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, while shooting 46.3% from three and 73.0% from the free-throw line.  Odom is 2nd in the SEC in 3-point percentage (.463) and in 3’s made (2.8/game), and has scored in double figures  in 10 games this season.  He has also made three or more threes in a game on seven occasions in 2013-14, and tallied his first career double-double at Alabama with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Record Against the SEC
Vanderbilt is 671-658 all-time in Southeastern Conference play.

 

Fuller Coming On
Senior point guard Kyle Fuller has had a solid five game stretch for the Commodores – he is averaging 10.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game in those games.  Fuller is ranked third in the SEC in assists with 3.7 assists per game and seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5).

 

Perimeter Defense a Plus
The Commodores lead the SEC in three-point field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot only 27.9% from beyond the arc.

 

Freshmen Shoring Up Post Play
Freshman post player Damian Jones has had a solid start to his freshman campaign, averaging 10.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest.  He has scored in double figures in eight games this season, and five of the last six.  Meanwhile Luke Kornet, another freshman, backs up Jones and against Northeastern and Alabama, grabbed a career-high seven rebounds in each one of those contests.  Kornet averages 4.3 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.

By LARRY VAUGHT

BIRMINGHAM — Scott Ramey, president of the Nashville Sports Council, is delighted that Nashville will host the SEC Tournament nine of the next 12 years and knows UK fans are probably just as happy.

“Kentucky’s fan base obviously is very close and has a great affinity for Music City as we do for them. It has always been a great partnership for the city to have the tourney here and for Kentucky fans to be so close,” Ramsey said while attending Media Days. “It’s just a great opportunity for us. It seems like we can create energy outside the building and can now do for it 12 years in a row (including three women’s tournaments).

“It is an easy trip for UK fans. We get a lot of the western part from Hopkinsville and Paducah that come to Nashville. It’s a great marriage and opportunity for Big Blue to come down every year and circle the date on their calendars.”

When can fans start ordering tickets?

“That would be a SEC office question. You laugh about that, but we have talked about how we can plan and build equity in the event now. We are excited and next step is how do we get creative,” Ramsey said.

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings is also happy to have the tourney in Nashville — his team ousted UK last year and put UK into the NIT — but says it is good for the league, not just hometown Vanderbilt.

“I am very biased, but I think it is the best venue,” Stallings said.

His argument is that a smaller, more normal venue produces better basketball than playing postseason events in huge domes.

“I am very happy for the all the players and fans in the league,” Stallings said. “Play is just better in a more traditional setting than in a dome. Shooting is much easier in standard size gyms.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings has no problem admitting he is “jealous” of the way Kentucky coach John Calipari, who added six McDonald’s All-Americans to UK’s roster this season, can recruit.

“They get it done that way. Our deal is different obviously (at Vanderbilt). Our program is not going to be constructed that way. Not because I wouldn’t if I could … I would,” said Stallings during the Southeastern Conference Media Days here Wednesday. “But it’s just not the nature of our program. I am apparently not as good a recruiter as Cal is.

“We have to get guys, and through with what we do with player development, we have to make guys better and compete that way. That’s how we have to do and I would like to think we have been pretty successful that way.”

But if Stallings did face a roster with as many high profile players as Calipari will have this year, he says he didn’t know what he would do.

“I would probably coach them the same way that I coach my guys right now,” the Vanderbilt coach said. “I am not the smartest guy in the world … but here is one thing I do know about coaching — you don’t treat everybody the same. You try to treat everybody fairly. Different guys have different needs. I would do the same thing I do right now and try to figure out which guys needed hugs and which guys needed kisses and which guys needed foots in the rear and try to give them whatever they needed.”

Missouri guard Earnest Ross said there’s only one way for so many high profile players to enjoy a season.

“Just embrace it and take it on,” he said. “Learn what it takes to win at this level. You just have to chance new guys’ mindsets and make sure they are ready to win.”

Ross, who started his career at Auburn, said the preseason hype about UK means nothing to him.

“I just stay focused and winning games. If we are winning, it doesn’t matter who anybody voted for (in the preseason polls),” Ross said.

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.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings made sure to let Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel that he was thinking about him after his season-ending injury. The Kentucky freshman watched UK beat Vanderbilt 74-70 in Rupp Arena Wednesday after having his year ended when he tore the ACL in his left knee last week at Florida.

“I am very disappointed for the young man that tore his ACL. That is a shame. I had a daughter that tore her ACL three times, so I am familiar with the injury and my heart goes out to him. Our best wishes go out to him,” said Stallings.

Kentucky lost by 30 points at Tennessee Saturday in its first game without Noel.

“I think one of two things generally happens with that (when a star player is hurt). Either the next game the team pulls together and overcomes the loss with emotion, effort and energy where everyone plays above themselves — which it’s pretty apparent that that wasn’t what happened on Saturday,” Stallings said. “Then, generally speaking, if that doesn’t happen they need some time to re-orient and get used to what else is going to take place.”

Vanderbilt center Josh Henderson, who had 13 points and two rebounds Wednesday, said facing UK without Noel was different.
“He is a great player. He is really good at protecting the rim. He is one of the most athletic guys,” Henderson said. “He led the SEC in rebound and blocks. It definitely opened up the lane and it definitely took away a big presence they have.”

 

uk basketball logoBy LARRY VAUGHT

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings knows Kentucky lost center Nerlens Noel to a season-ending knee injury last week and lost by 30 points at Tennessee Saturday without him. Still, Stallings expects UK will be “raring” to go against his team Wednesday in Rupp Arena.

“We’re coming off a pretty good performance against a good Texas A&M team on Saturday and it’s a game I thought our team played pretty well in. We were happy to win that and now we know we’ve got a big challenge in front of us,” said Stallings Monday. “Had a great game against Kentucky the first time around and would anticipate that’s what we’ll have again. But anyway, I know they’re coming off of a disappointing game but I’m sure they’ll be raring to go on Wednesday night. So we look forward to the challenge of going up there and playing and hopefully we can go and play well.”

Stallings said he wasn’t sure what he could learn about UK without Noel from what happened at Tennessee.

“Tennessee would have beaten probably anyone in the country the way they played on Saturday. So I don’t know how much you can really look into that,” Stallings said. “They still have really good players, still have a bunch of guys that are projected to be very high draft choices. So they lost a key guy for sure, but they’re still very, very talented and very, very good. I’m sure that was a case of bad timing on Saturday and I’m sure they’ll be a lot better by Wednesday.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari hopes so, especially since UK also has to host Missouri Saturday night.

“Two good teams. Vandy beats Texas A&M. They played Tennessee to two great games,” Calipari said. “Kev (Stallings) is doing a great job with his team, putting them in positions to have a chance to win every game they play. You look at Missouri’s guard play, which means they have a chance any game they are in. They’ve got big people inside that can do damage, so they’re a top-20 team. Two teams that are going to be rough games for us right now.”

Calipari indicated on the Southeastern Conference coaches’ teleconference that he learned Saturday what other defensive changes he must make without Noel, the nation’s leading shot blocker. With no Noel, Tennessee players got inside and scored time after time.

“Well, I’m not going to tell you everything we’re trying to do because what I’m trying to do is give this team the best opportunity to win games, to put themselves in a position when the game is winding down, we have our chances,” Calipari said. “And it’s on both offense and defense. Aside from X, Y, Z, that’s what we have to do and that’s what we’re trying to figure out.  And it’s obvious without Nerlens we are a little different. It doesn’t mean we’re 40 points different (like they were after beating Tennessee b 10 points earlier this season), but we’re a little different, and we’re going to have play stronger. We’re going to have to cover for each other a little more because you can’t just let people shoot layups, which is what happened last game.”

Kentucky also had no inside offensive presence without Noel, who was averaging 10 points per game.

“I don’t think they ran a lot of plays for him to begin with and they didn’t run a lot of plays for Anthony Davis and Anthony Davis still scored a lot of points against you,” Stallings said. “But again, they still have really good players and guys that can shoot and guys that can post and guys that can drive and they’re good in transition. It’s still a very potent offensive team even without Noel and he certainly is an outstanding player.”

Calipari wouldn’t indicate whether Jarrod Polson, who had 11 points and six rebounds, would start at point guard again after making his first start. Ryan Harrow lost his spot to Polson and did not have a point, rebound or assist at Tennessee in 20 minutes. “We got two practices here. We’ll evaluate that and see what we do,” Calipari said.

Stallings hopes his team is better than the one UK beat in January.

“There are times when we’re scoring the ball a little bit better. Maybe our offensive play has gotten somewhat better. I wouldn’t call us an offensive juggernaut yet, but at times we’re a little bit better offensively than maybe we were a month or two ago,” Stallings said. “I still think that the thing that’s been consistent about us that’s given us a chance to win has been our defense.

Photos by Victoria Graff, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.

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.”

 

Vandy Coach Stallings By LARRY VAUGHT

I know not every Kentucky basketball fan likes Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, but I’ve always found him to be almost blunt honest when he answers questions, especially about the University of Kentucky program.

That’s why I was interested to hear what his reaction was to the new SEC scheduling format that does not guarantee UK and Vanderbilt will play two games each season — one in Lexington, one in Nashville.

“I think that will be one of the disappointments to the new scheduling format but I don’t think there was any way to satisfy everyone (with the SEC adding two teams and two games to the schedule). It’s just one of the by-products of the new format,” said the Vanderbilt coach. “I know our fans will be disappointed in that, but that’s just the nature of it. If John’s teams continue to be as good as the one this year, I won’t miss playing them twice a year.”

Calipari’s team is going to be good again, but somehow I think Stallings is going to miss the UK-Vanderbilt game. He’s embraced playing UK and the Kentucky game at Vandy is one of my favorites each year.

But I also had to chuckle a bit when Stallings was asked what kind of feedback he had received from Vanderbilt fans.

“I don’t even know that our fans are aware yet. I think probably until we release a public schedule of what it is going to mean …. Again, there will still be years when we do play them twice. If we only play them once, just the way it goes. I know our fans in years we are not playing twice, I am sure our fans will be disappointed,” Stallings said.

Just like I’ll be disappointed not to have Stallings playing and talking about Kentucky twice a year.

Vandy coach Kevin Stallings. (Victoria Graff photo)

Vandy coach Kevin Stallings. (Victoria Graff photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings says it’s not hard to know why Kentucky is so good offensively this season.

“Really, really good players. Their scheme is good, but the players are really good,” Stallings said. “In our case, Anthony Davis was terrific and we didn’t provide a lot of resistance for him. But it’s just more that they are just good. They are set up well. They play well together. They are big and long and skilled and they pass to each other well and they share it.

“They are a hard cover for anybody, but there were things we could have done if we had not failed to execute that could have given us a little better chance. Again, the reason you don’t play perfectly against a team like that is they put you in spots not to play well.

Stallings says Kentucky has also made tweaks to its offense that have made the Wildcats more productive.

“They have adjusted their offense quite a bit. He (John Calipari) suits it to his personnel, which is what good coaches do,” Stallings said. “They put their guys in spots to be the most effective they can be. That is what all of us are trying to do. Certainly that is what John has done and they run their offense very well.”

Stallings said his team “expected” to play well at Kentucky and did.

“Kentucky had to play well and they did, especially on offense. We were just beaten by a better team,” the Vanderbilt coach said. “I did not think our defense played the way we could have at times, but again they are obviously a terrific team and we have to be better defensively that we were (to beat them).”

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