Vanderbilt Gunning For NCAA Tourney

FAYETTEVILLE -- Vanderbilt senior forward Corey Smith isn't afraid to pull the trigger whenever he's behind the 3-point line.

Neither is guard Shan Foster, who leads the Southeastern Conference in three-point field goal percentage in conference play (52 percent). Mario Moore made five 3-pointers during Vanderbilt's 88-63 win at Tennessee on Jan. 8. Teammate Alex Gordon knocked down five in the rematch with the Vols, a 67-62 win on Feb. 2.

And don't forget about 7-foot-2 backup center Dawid Przybyszewski. The senior was a perfect 6 of 6 in Vandy's 90-54 win against Texas Pan-American last week.

Arkansas (17-8, 5-7 in SEC) is preparing for a 3-point barrage when it meets Vanderbilt in Memorial Gym on Saturday night. The perimeter-oriented Commodores (15-10, 5-6), who have accomplished 3-point shooters at every position, will lean on their long-range abilities and Princeton-style offense against the Razorbacks.

"Any time you play them, any time you watch them play on film, the backdoors and 3-point shots are major concerns," Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. "We'll have to do a good job preparing ourselves and find a way to take away the layups and 3-point shots they get in their offense."

Vanderbilt has more 3-point attempts (611) and field goals (244) than any team in the SEC and is second behind Florida in 3-point field goal percentage (39.9 percent). The Commodores have knocked down 12 or more 3-pointers in 10 games and average a conference-high 9.8 3-point field goals an outing.

Vanderbilt made a season-best 18 3-pointers in the win at Tennessee on Jan. 8 and attempted a season-high 35 during its 68-63 loss at South Carolina on Jan. 26.

For the season, the Commodores have four players that are shooting 40 percent or better from behind the 3-point line (Foster, Przybyszewski, Smith and Dan Cage). Two more (Moore and Jason Holwerda) are shooting better than 36 percent.

Starting forward Julian Terrell is the only Vanderbilt player that hasn't attempted a 3-pointer this season.

"The 3-point shot is a deadly weapon for them," Heath said. "They've been pretty hot at home.

"We'll work hard over the next couple days. It's not an easy offense to defend because it's counter to how you teach your principles. The more aggressive you are, the more you can pay sometimes."

But Vanderbilt proved it can win without much 3-point success during its 67-43 win at Auburn on Wednesday night. The Commodores -- who were 6 of 24 behind the arc -- made just 1 of their first 14 3-point attempts and fell behind by 15 points.

The Commodores instead relied on what coach Kevin Stallings described as an improving defense in the second half to overcome the sluggish start. Vanderbilt turned 21 Auburn turnovers into 28 points and used a 21-0 run to win the game.

"It was a win that we desperately needed," Stallings said. "I was very proud of our team because we got down big at the beginning of the game and were able to fight back and win the game going away."

Smith paced the Commodores with 19 points against Auburn, continuing his strong run through SEC play. The forward leads Vandy in scoring in SEC games (13 points) and is averaging 11.9 this season. Smith is second on the team in scoring behind Moore, who averages 12.5 points and is 51 of 126 behind the 3-point line.

Led by Smith and Moore, Vanderbilt has had success with a deep bench this season. Ten Commodores average at least 14 minutes a game and seven are putting up more than six points an outing.

Vanderbilt needs the balanced contributions to continue if it wants to reach the NCAA Tournament, where it made an improbable run to the Sweet 16 last April. The Commodores' hopes were damaged last month after suffering consecutive losses at Kentucky, against Florida, at Georgia and at South Carolina.

"I think for us particularly, with it being a home game, (Saturday is) big," Stallings said. "We've lost two home games (against Florida and Kentucky). We can't afford to lose anymore and keep our hopes real high. We're not on the doorstep (of the NCAA Tournament) yet by any stretch of the imagination.

"It's a big game. Both of us want to finish strong and get something good going down the stretch."

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