Commodores pounce on undermanned UGA, 61-39

NASHVILLE-- Stress-free wins are generally hard to come by for Vanderbilt once Southeastern Conference play begins-- but Vanderbilt won a rare laugher Wednesday at Memorial Gym, as the Commodores pounced on a depleted Georgia squad, 61-39. Kevin Stallings picked up his 200th career coaching win, while Vanderbilt improved its record to 15-5, 4-5 in the SEC.

NASHVILLE-- Stress-free wins are generally hard to come by for Vanderbilt once Southeastern Conference play begins-- but Vanderbilt won a rare laugher Wednesday at Memorial Gym, as the Commodores pounced on a depleted Georgia squad, 61-39. Kevin Stallings picked up his 200th career coaching win, while Vanderbilt improved its record to 15-5, 4-5 in the SEC.

The Commodores caught a huge break as Georgia's starting point guard Rashad Wright was held out of the game due to a sprained ankle. The Bulldogs had come to town already low on numbers due to Georgia's offseason off-court troubles, but with Wright on the bench in street clothes, Georgia coach Dennis Felton had only six scholarship players to call upon.

Without Wright, the Bulldogs' senior playmaker and all-time assist leader, Georgia struggled mightily to score in the halfcourt. The Bulldogs had just 18 points at halftime, and their 39 total points was the lowest by one of the Commodores' SEC opponents since 1993. Georgia went over 14 minutes without a field goal at one point and averaged a mere 28 percent from the floor.

"We realize we caught a break tonight. I told Dennis that them having to play without Rashad Wright would be like us having to play without Matt Freije," said Stallings, referring to the Commodores' leading scorer. Wednesday's game was the first Wright had missed in his four-year career.

For Stallings, however, there was plenty to smile about. Vanderbilt was able to exploit its size and depth advantage, as all twelve players saw considerable playing time. Perhaps the most encouraging post-game statistic was the Commodores' free throw percentage-- Vandy overcame that recent bugaboo by hitting 19-of-20 from the line, including 8-of-8 by Freije.

Scott Hundley's steal and jam with 4:28 left in the game gave Vandy a 57-34 lead. (VUAD / Neil Brake)
Vanderbilt led just 13-9 with 11:28 left in the first half, but seized control of the game with a 21-7 run that led to a 34-18 halftime lead. The undermanned Bulldogs were never able to cut the lead below 15 points, as the Commodores opened the second half with another big run and twice led by as many as 27 points.

"I thanked the team for not making me sweat this one out in the second half," Stallings joked afterwards.

Freije had an off-night, going just 2-of-8 from the floor, but still managed to lead Vandy in scoring with 13 points. David Przybyszewski matched Freije's 13 and pulled down 6 boards, while Julian Terrell had his best outing since the Tennessee game with 10 points off the bench.

No player scored in double figures for Georgia, which fell to 11-10, 3-7 in SEC play.

"We lost the game because of the guys who played, not because of anyone who didn't play," said a gracious Felton. "They're a lot bigger than us, and that made it a challenge. They blocked our inside shots about five times, so even when we got the ball where we wanted it, it became difficult to make even a quality shot."

Georgia employed a plodding offense and a zone defense in order to slow down the game's pace. Vanderbilt shot just 43% against the zone, but it was more than enough.

The rare easy win sparked hopes that the Commodores can get things turned around in the second half of the conference season, which ought to be much easier than the first half. Vanderbilt finished the first half of the conference slate 3-5, but with all of its games vs. division heavyweights Kentucky and Florida out of the way, should find the going much easier in the final seven games.

Saturday's rematch vs. South Carolina in Columbia (6:30 CT, 7:30 ET) now becomes a crucial game for the Commodores' NCAA hopes. The No. 25 Gamecocks, which won the previous, fight-marred meeting in Nashville on Jan. 28, lost at home in overtime Wednesday to the SEC West leader, No. 6 Mississippi State.

GAME NOTES:

Kevin Stallings' career record now stands at 200-127.

David Przybyszewski started for the second straight game in place of Julian Terrell, but Corey Smith returned to the starting lineup after not starting in the previous game.

Forward/center Martin Schnedlitz saw extensive action for the first time since the TCU game, but did not score.

Georgia's first-year head coach Dennis Felton was assessed a technical foul early in the second half for arguing an offensive foul call against the Bulldogs.

Photos by Neil Brake, Vanderbilt athletics.

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