Could Vanderbilt win on the road? Check.
Could Vanderbilt win in the SEC? Check.
Can Vanderbilt win at Kentucky? We'll have to wait until Saturday on that one.
The Commodores won their 12th straight game Wednesday night at Memorial Gym and will head to Kentucky Saturday to try to break a football-like hex at venerable Rupp Arena, where the Commodores are 0-for-forever.
"I didn't think (not playing in a close game to date) would hurt us and it obviously didn't," Stallings said. "They get the lead and our guys dig in and guard and play with the kind of energy they practice with. I'm just proud of them."
When things got tight, it was the seniors that stepped up. Russell Lakey, who had made just one three-pointer on the season entering the game, hit the night's biggest shot when he drained a three to give VU a 55-53 lead with 1:08 to play. Vanderbilt was 0-for-13 from behind the arc to that point in the second half.
"I knew we were 0-for-something because we couldn't throw the ball in the ocean," Lakey said.
"That's another senior play," Stallings said.
From there, Vanderbilt rode its defense. Lakey came up with a steal, Freije a blocked shot; the next thing you knew the game was over, and the 2003-04 Commodores had claimed the best start in school history.
"Good for them, because we probably got in the record book in some other ways last year," Stallings said. "We're happy to get on the good side of the record book."
Freije led in the scoring column with 15 points, but shot just 4-for-14 from the floor. Corey Smith scored 10, all in the first half. Vanderbilt shot 58 percent in the first half and just 29 percent in the second.
Vanderbilt built a commanding 31-14 lead in the first half with a crisp offensive attack and a tenacious defense that made life difficult at every turn for the visiting Tigers. Vanderbilt had 10 assists on its first 11 baskets before a breakaway dunk by Smith and a drive by Lakey hurt the assist-to-basket ratio but helped on the scoreboard.
The tide turned in the second half however, as Auburn scored on 10 straight possessions at one point to build its 53-48 lead.
Vanderbilt will now turn its attention to Kentucky and an arena in which they lost by 62 points a year ago.
"It was the longest night of my life," Freije said of the Wildcats' 106-44 win last March. "It seemed like the game went on forever and ever and ever. We don't want any more long nights like that."
Bill Trocchi is the online editor at Athlon Sports.