Freije interrupted immediately, saying, "It has taken me four years."
And that, truly, is the goal. Yes, Freije just missed becoming the school's all-time leading scorer, sitting in a dead-heat with Ronnie McMahon and five points shy of tying Phil Cox for the time being. But Freije knows that record will be hollow if there are no NCAA Tournaments in his four-year career.
"These next four games will mean more to me than any point I've ever scored here," he said.
Stallings has sold his Commodores on the concept that there is a four-game season left, and if Vanderbilt plays well, it will be in the NCAA Tournament one year after going 3-13 in the SEC. Vanderbilt stands 17-6, 6-6 and very much on the positive side of any bubble talk.
"It is nice to be where we are," Stallings said. "We have a chance. We've fought back and our team has continued to get better. We've got every opportunity right in front of us."
For the second straight home game, Vanderbilt caught a break, facing a team minus its best player. Against Georgia, it was Rashad Wright. Saturday, it was Jaime Lloreda, who averages a mere 17 points and 12 rebounds per contest. Lloreda aggravated lower leg injuries against Auburn, and didn't dress against the Commodores Saturday.
It was obvious from the start LSU was not going to score a lot of points without its leader. The Tigers missed 12 of their first 13 shots and scored just 28 points in the first half. Problem was, Vanderbilt had just 22 at the break after shooting an ugly 29 percent.
"I wasn't surprised we played well today," Stallings said. "I was surprised it took us 20 minutes to do so."
The second half was a totally different story, at least at one end of the court. While LSU continued to falter on offense, Vanderbilt exploded, led by junior Dawid Przybyszewski. The Polish center nailed two threes in the first two minutes of the second half and finished 5-for-5 from behind the arc. He scored 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and held Brandon Bass to 1-for-9 shooting at the other end.
"I create a mismatch," said Przybyszewski, who sent the LSU beat writers scrambling for the pronunciation guide. "Big guys are not used to guarding on the three-point line. I think I can take full advantage of it."
Vanderbilt's 18-5 burst early in the second half gave it a 40-33 lead. Later, there was a 9-0 run that pushed the lead to 55-39, then a final a 13-0 run that ran the score to 68-43 with 2:35 to play. The Commodores shot a scorching 64 percent in the second half.
"That dunk was ridiculous," Stallings said.
With the game no longer in doubt, the question of whether Freije would break the scoring record was still unresolved. Freije had 22 points with 3:46 to play, but then came out of the game after a brief chat with Stallings.
"It was the right decision," Freije said. "I want to break it in a classy way. I didn't want it to be when we are up 20 in garbage minutes. I want it to be in the middle of a game when it really counts."
From here on out, for Freije and the rest of the Commodores, everything counts.
Vanderbilt honored ex-Commodore Perry Wallace, the first African-American player in SEC history, by retiring his No. 25 jersey in pre-game ceremonies. Wallace (right, AP photo by Neil Brake), who played at Vandy from 1967-70, today is a professor of law at American University in Washington D.C.
"This is a place where I labored, we labored," said Wallace in a brief statement to a Memorial Gymnasium crowd standing in his honor. "We took a step, and everybody won."
Saturday was proclaimed "Perry Wallace Day" in Nashville by Mayor Bill Purcell.
Also in attendance were members of the 1973-74 men's basketball team, which won a share of the SEC championship 30 years ago this year. The team was recognized in a ceremony at halftime.
Bill Trocchi is online editor at Athlon Sports.