Vanderbilt vengeance

Heading into tonight's game at Nashville, second-year Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl is unbeaten (2-0) against Vanderbilt. He believes he just as easily could be winless in the series, however.

Pearl's Vols were out-shot 47 percent to 36 percent last Feb. 1 in Knoxville but rallied from a six-point halftime deficit to trip Kevin Stallings' Commodores 69-62. Pearl recalls it being "a very even game for 40 minutes but we happened to win at the end."

In the March 4 rematch at Nashville the Vols shot just 39 percent but overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to win 62-59.

"If there was a game we didn't exactly deserve to win last year it was at Vanderbilt," Pearl says. "Vanderbilt outplayed us for most of that ballgame."

Looking back, the Vol coach still wonders how his team was outplayed so significantly and won on its last visit to Music City. That's why he expects a fired-up Commodore team to be seeking vengeance tonight at 8 EST in Memorial Gymnasium.

"You can outplay somebody in soccer and that doesn't always determine who wins and loses," he notes. "In basketball, the team that outplays the other team usually wins. It didn't happen in that case. I would say this Vanderbilt team is definitely going to be very, very hungry."

That's especially true since the Commodores (10-5 overall) are off to an 0-1 start in conference play, having dropped a 68-65 heart-breaker at Auburn last Saturday. Conversely, the 19th-ranked Vols are 13-2 overall, 1-0 in league play and riding a nine-game winning streak.

Basketball is all about match-ups, and Vandy is not a particularly good match-up for Tennessee. The Vols love to force turnovers with full-court pressure but the Commodores are not inclined to turn the ball over.

"Vanderbilt has four guards," Pearl notes, "so it'll be difficult to press four guards."

It will be difficult to DEFEND four guards, too. Vandy ranks second among SEC teams in 3-point baskets (making 8.87 per game), while Tennessee ranks 10th in 3-point defense (allowing foes to hit 34.2 percent).

"They've got great shooters," Pearl says. "They're one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the SEC. We gave Mississippi State ten 3's. If we give Vanderbilt ten 3's we'll get beat."

Vandy features four double-figure scorers in its starting five. Shan Foster, a 6-6 forward, leads at 15.3 per game, followed by 6-7 Derrick Byars (13.9), 6-9 Ross Nelton (11.4) and 6-5 Dan Cage (10.9). The other starter is 5-11 point guard Alex Gordon. He averages 7.9 points but lit up Tennessee for 30 (hitting 8 of 11 shots, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range) two years ago in Nashville.

Vanderbilt's strength is its perimeter scoring. Its weakness is its inside game; the Commodores don't have one. That means Tennessee's freshman duo of 6-7 Duke Crews and 6-9 Wayne Chism could have big games tonight.

The Vols are led by SEC scoring leader Chris Lofton at 22.2 points per game. Lofton's 3-point shot deserted him the past two games (1 of 5 vs. ETSU, 1 of 4 vs. Mississippi State), yet he still scored 28 points in the former and 21 in the latter.

"I think I'm getting to the hole better than last year," he explains. "Last year I kinda always settled for the 3-point shot, and people took me away from that. I think getting to the rack better has really helped my game."

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