The Commodores played most of December, January and February without at least one key player, and often with multiple key players playing hurt, but Vanderbilt appears to be getting healthy at tournament time and playing well to boot.
Once forward Steve Tchiengang's sprained ankle began to heal, the biggest piece that coach Kevin Stallings needed to fall into place was the healing of Lance Goulbourne's ankle.
Now that his 6-foot-8 junior forward is back near full-strength, he's averaged 11.5 points and 13 rebounds his last two games.
That's helped the Commodores, who've struggled to rebound at times, have a net advantage of one rebound over opponents in those two games.
Vanderbilt has had trouble guarding athletic wings, but Goulbourne's return, and with Stallings sometimes using the 6-7 Jeffery Taylor against point guards, Goulbourne's return shores up another weakness there.
The other guy Vanderbilt has available full-time is 6-7 Andre Walker. Before Feb. 17 against Auburn, Walker had played only one game since Dec. 1 because of injury and illness, and seemed slated for a key role when he played 20 minutes in a loss to Tennessee on Feb. 22.
But since then, Walker played only three minutes on Saturday against LSU, and Stallings elected not to play him on Tuesday at Kentucky.
The player who's been most affected by Goulbourne and Tchiengang's improved health is Rod Odom. Between Dec. 1 and Feb. 19, Odom played double-digit minutes in all but two games, but has played seven, nine, and seven in his last three.
Odom scored 11 points in a win over Georgia on Feb. 16, but hasn't scored in five games since.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Coach Kevin Stallings has tried hard not to make his team dependent on the 3-point shot, and with scorers like Jeffrey Taylor on the wing, and Festus Ezeli inside, the Commodores certainly have plenty of options. But one thing has become clear: Vanderbilt is much easier to beat when the Commodores aren't knocking down 3-pointers with regularity. Kentucky coach John Calipari made shutting down Vanderbilt's perimeter shooters a priority, and the Commodores hit only 2-of-11 from behind the arc in a 68-66 loss to the Wildcats on Tuesday. The previous Tuesday, Tennessee held Vanderbilt to 3-of-16 on 3-pointers in its nine-point victory. Those two games are the only two of the last eight that Vanderbilt has lost. In the six wins, Vandy hit 62-of-127 shots (48.8 percent) from long distance.
--Vanderbilt trailed by as many as 15 points, but came back to take the lead in the final minutes against Kentucky on Tuesday. But the Commodores came up a play short down the stretch, as Kentucky extended its home-court winning streak to 34 games in a 68-66 victory. Festus Ezeli had 22 points, John Jenkins added 16 and Jeffery Taylor scored 13 for the 21-8 Commodores.
--Festus Ezeli had blocked 22 shots in 93 minutes of his previous four games coming into Tuesday, which left him one behind Will Perdue's school record of 74 for a season. Ezeli blocked three shots against Kentucky, giving him the single-season mark. Ezeli has 141 for his career, leaving him four behind A.J. Ogilvy and 16 behind Perdue for the career mark at VU.
--Junior G/F Jeffery Taylor marked the 90th start of his career with a 20-point game at LSU, going 6-of-8 from the field and hitting one of his two three-point attempts. It was his 67th game in double figures, including 21 this season. He also had three assists, two rebounds, and two steals.
--Vanderbilt had five players score in double figure for the fourth time this season and first time since the win over Ole Miss back on Jan. 11. Besides Taylor's 20, G John Jenkins had 17 points, G/F Lance Goulbourne 17, G Brad Tinsley 16, and C Festus Ezeli 15.
--Vandy won for the seventh time in 11 games when trailing at halftime.
BY THE NUMBERS: 54.4 -- Vandy's shooting percentage in the win over LSU, highest for the Commodores against an SEC opponent this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The better we played it seemed like the more irritated I got. I was getting after them in the second half, but I was really proud of their effort and really proud of how we played in the second half. That's obviously what we need to do and how we need to do to be a good team." -- Coach Kevin Stallings, who said he was calm in his approach with his players at halftime after they trailed at LSU at the break.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. Florida, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: Vandy blew an opportunity to steal a road win when it lost in overtime to the Gators in Gainesville. Senior F Chandler Parsons recorded a double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds) and Florida's backcourt duo of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker combined for 30 points, though they were only 9-of-27 from the field.
FUTURES MARKET: Junior G/F Lance Goulbourne has had to contend with an ankle injury that has limited is time in practice. But he played 31 minutes off the bench and scored 16 points and had 17 rebounds (a career high) in the win at LSU. "I got treatment on my ankle two or three times a day, and it's been feeling great," Goulbourne said. "I'm not completely 100 percent yet, but I'm not going to be until probably the end of the season."
--As of Feb. 26, sophomore G John Jenkins had reached double figures in all 27 games for the Commodores after getting 17 points -- 12 in the second half -- at LSU.
--Junior G Brad Tinsley had five assists against the Tigers, marking the 13th time he had at least that many in a game this season.
--Junior C Festus Ezeli recorded six blocks against LSU, giving him 73 for the season, one behind the school record set by Will Perdue in 1987-88.
Vanderbilt finally feeling hale and hearty