Vandy vengeance

Vanderbilt's hatred of cross-state rival Tennessee – always in season – has ripened a bit since the Vols trounced the Commodores 80-60 Jan. 17 in Knoxville.

Tonight the visiting Vols (25-2 overall, 11-1 SEC) will bring the No. 1 national ranking with them into a 9 o'clock EST tipoff against No. 18 Vandy (23-4, 8-4) at Memorial Gymnasium.

Yeah, as if the 'Dores needed more incentive ...

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl recognizes how bitterly intense the Vol-Commodore rivalry is. That's why he wears an orange jacket whenever the teams meet. And that's why he isn't nearly as worried about the impact the No. 1 ranking will have on his team as he is the impact it will have on Kevin Stallings' team.

"I'm not concerned with the ranking except that it makes the prize even bigger for Vandy or anyone who's going to play us," Pearl said. "The opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country is not extended to you very often. It was big to us (last Saturday night) versus Memphis – kind of everything to gain and nothing to lose."

Meanwhile, Big Orange fans who fret that holding the No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history will go to the Vols' heads needn't worry.

"The ranking won't affect us," Pearl noted. "We're terrifically challenged anyway. The game in Knoxville was closer than the score. They (Commodores) are playing very, very well at home. They always play well at home. That's a tough place to play."

Of course, FedEx Forum in Memphis is a tough place to play, too. The Memphis Tigers had won 47 consecutive games there before losing to Tennessee 66-62 last Saturday night.

"This team is resilient, has found ways to win ... or found ways NOT to lose," Pearl said. "But the road doesn't get any easier for us."

Vanderbilt is 17-0 at home this season, including a 41-point (93-52) beat-down of a Kentucky team on Feb. 12 that had beaten Tennessee 72-66 in Lexington just three weeks earlier. Moreover, the 'Dores have won seven of nine overall since suffering that 20-point loss at Thompson-Boling Arena six weeks ago.

"Vanderbilt's playing awfully well," Pearl said. "The score in Knoxville was not at all indicative of the kind of game it was. It was a close game, a well-contested game."

In fact, the previous game was not nearly as lopsided as the final margin suggests. Tennessee led just 61-53 with six minutes remaining, then closed with a 19-7 flurry.

That Jan. 17 shootout would've been a lot closer if the Commodores' top two players hadn't struggled mightily. Senior superstar Shan Foster made just 1 of 11 shots from 3-point range and fabulous freshman A.J. Ogilvy was limited to 21 minutes and 12 points by foul trouble.

It's also worth noting that Vandy's defense gave Tennessee some unexpected problems in the earlier meeting. The 'Dores forced 17 Vol turnovers, including 6 by Tyler Smith.

"Vanderbilt did lot of things to disrupt us ... the way they guarded us physically and at times extended. We turned it over some," Pearl said. "The things they did will probably be more disruptive on their home floor."

Vandy beat Tennessee 82-81 in Nashville a year ago, and Pearl believes this group of Commodores is better than last year's squad that advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 ... same as UT.

"They have two of the best players in the league in Foster and Ogilvy," the Vol coach noted. "They were a game away from the Elite Eight last year. With Ogilvy and most of their cast of characters back, they're in position to do it again."

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