Commodores seek 20th win at Stegeman Coliseum

Vanderbilt's men's team closes the regular season Saturday at Georgia's Stegeman Coliseum. The Commodores (19-7, 8-7 SEC) tip off vs. the homestanding Bulldogs (14-12, 6-9) at 7 pm ET / 6 CT (no TV; 95.5 WSM-FM). Vanderbilt won the previous meeting in Nashville, 61-39. Can the Dores, winners of four of their last five, finish the SEC slate on an up note? VeeMan offers this analysis.

Even though Wednesday night was senior night at Memorial Gymnasium, Vanderbilt's game with Tennessee turned into a desperate come-from-behind struggle. Down by as much as 14 points in the first half and 11 in the second, the Commodores managed a 61-58 victory which improved their record to 19-7 (8-7 SEC). Matt Freije turned in one of his best games in his last home appearance, firing in 28 points and carrying the offense almost by himself for most of the second half. Corey Smith (12 points) was the only other player in double digits.

The Georgia Bulldogs gave a good account of themselves Wednesday in Gainesville, Fla. before losing to the Florida Gators, 63-55. The Dawgs now have a 6-9 conference record, including two wins over Kentucky (65-57 in Lexington and 74-68 in Athens). They have also defeated Arkansas 71-50, Mississippi 64-51, Florida 76-62, and Tennessee 71-50, all at home. Their showing on the road has produced only one win, the Kentucky victory, and includes a dismal 61-39 loss to Vanderbilt in Nashville on Feb. 11.

Statistically, Georgia is near the bottom of the SEC teams in most categories. They are eleventh in points scored per game, scoring margin, field goal shooting percentage, 3-point shooting, and assist/turnover ratio. They are twelfth in field goal defense, tenth in blocked shots, and eighth in rebounding margin. They make their best showing in free-throw percentage (fourth) and defense against three-point shots (third).

6-3 senior guard Rashad Wright (left, AP photo by Bill Feig), who missed the Feb. 11 game, continues to be Georgia's top player (14.0 ppg); but his assist/turnover ratio (2.9/2.2) is far from being up to his standard of past seasons, probably due to his increased role in the offense. He is a dangerous outside shooter, making 37.6% of his threes and topping the team in that area.

Wright's running mate, 6-1 freshman Levi Stukes, is also a threat from the outside, connecting on 34.2% of his treys. He is scoring 8.8 ppg and is a likely candidate for the conference all-freshman team, having started every game this year.

6-7 senior Damien Wilkins is the second leading scorer (13.0 ppg) and rebounder (5.5 per game). He handles the ball almost as much as Wright and trails him only slightly in assists. He gets most of his points on drives to the basket and short-range shots. He seems to be the team's spiritual leader.

The top defender, 6-7 senior Chris Daniels, has never been a big star but he gets the job done quietly and efficiently. He is averaging 9.9 ppg, leads in rebounding with an impressive 8.3 grabs per game, and will draw the job of guarding Matt Freije. 6-8 senior Jonas Hayes (12.1 ppg) is a strong inside operative although only the third leading rebounder (5.1 per game). Jonas is the twin brother of Jarvis Hayes, who decided to forego his senior year and is now playing in the NBA.

Georgia has a solid starting five, but only has two scholarship players off the bench. They are both freshmen, 6-8 Steve Newman (2.9 ppg) and 6-6 Marcus Sikes (2.2 ppg). Walk-on 6-4 freshman Buzz Wehunt has appeared in every game and scores 2.7 ppg, shooting mostly from the outside. Two other freshman walk-ons who may play are ponderous 7-0 Joey Waldrop, a 350-pounder, and 6-1 Jay McAuley. Obviously Coach Dennis Felton needs a big recruiting year.

It is almost as though Vanderbilt is playing Georgia for the first time this season, because the Bulldogs showed up in Nashville in body, but not in spirit. Without Wright, they seemed to almost sleep-walk through that game. Back in the "Steg-osaurus" (Stegeman Coliseum) on senior night, it is certain to be quite different. With four senior starters playing their final home game, Vanderbilt must expect a fired up opponent and the most supportive crowd it has seen in Athens in a good many years.

However, Coach Kevin Stallings has his team seemingly on the verge of getting back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1997. The Commodores have been playing well late in the season, although Wednesday's Tennessee game was not one of their better efforts. With far more depth and size, if not experience, they should squeak out a close victory, in the 3-to-7-point range. Top Stories