But alas, it wasn't to be. With its leading scorer out injured and its roster down to five scholarship players, Georgia dealt the Commodores one of their most demoralizing, confidence-crippling losses in years Saturday, 69-58. Walk-on freshman Kevin Brophy led the Bulldogs with a career-high 19 points. It was Vanderbilt's (11-7, 2-3 SEC) third straight loss.
As time expired, a small but vocal crowd at Stegeman Coliseum rose to its feet to toast Georgia's (7-8, 1-4) under-Dawgs, a team many had pegged to go 0-16 in the conference, for pulling off their first SEC win. Meanwhile the stunned, despondent Commodore team was left to sort out how such an unexpected debacle could have occurred.
"Terrible. It was embarrassing," said Mario Moore. "We didn't play with passion. If you don't play with passion, you can't win. We were like zombies out there."
With six minutes to play and the game tied, 50-50, Georgia went on a decisive 10-0 run. Brophy, substituting for the injured Levi Stukes, drained a trey; Sundiata Gaines hit two of three free throws, and later drove past Jason Holwerda for a bucket. The lethargic crowd, hungry for a win, became aroused.
Then, the dagger-- with two minutes left and the shot-clock ticking down to zero, 6-9 forward Steve Newman nailed an unlikely 3-pointer to make it 60-50. Vandy would cut the lead back to five at 62-57, before Brophy sank another lethal trey from the corner to seal it.
"It was the classic case of letting a team get its head up, and then they started making shots that they don't normally make," said Vandy head coach Kevin Stallings. "We created our own problems with our play on both ends.
"You just have to give them a lot of credit, because they played harder, and they wanted to win the game, moreso than we seemed to. The team that deserved to win, won."
Indeed, it was like a scene from the movie "Hoosiers." In this afternoon untelevised matchup, Dennis Felton's ragtag Bulldogs defended better and rebounded better than the bigger, badder, deeper Commodores. Defensively Georgia held Vandy, the league's best 3-point shooting team, to two measly 3-pointers on 15 attempts.
Offensively, the Bulldogs pulled down 14 offensive rebounds and nailed big shots down the game's crucial, final stretch. During that stretch, Vandy twice bailed out the Dawgs by fouling 3-point shooters.
"I think we just came out and probably underestimated them, and it hurt us at the end," said Corey Smith, who led Vandy with 13 points and 8 rebounds. "We just kind of, as Coach said, waded into the game, instead of just going out there and taking it to them. We were just expecting to win.
"When a team's at home, and has the crowd behind them, they hit a few shots and get that momentum behind them, it's tough to stop a team like that. I think it's a lesson we'll learn."
Georgia came out cold, shooting just 25% in the first half, but the sluggish Commodores were unable to take advantage. The VU offense, which never seemed to get in synch, committed 11 first-half turnovers. Georgia's aggressive, man-to-man defense took away Vandy's strength, its outside shot, and the Commodores led just 26-24 at halftime.
Georgia grabbed its first lead of the second half at 38-36 with 13:24 left. Vandy answered with a Corey Smith 3-pointer from the corner, but after Channing Toney's floater put UGA up again 40-39, the Dawgs would never trail.
Julian Terrell and Mario Moore had 11 points each, while Shan Foster and Jason Holwerda each added 9. Vandy shot a cold 42% from the floor, while Georgia was even colder at 38%. The Bulldogs hit seven 3-pointers, compared to Vandy's 2.
Just two short weeks ago, after Vandy had opened the SEC slate with a pair of impressive, double-digit victories, it appeared the sky might be the limit. Now, after three straight losses, a once-promising season could be headed toward disaster, unless the Commodores are quickly able to regain their focus.
"I don't know if our confidence took a hit, but I know that when you win, you can't get too high, and when you lose, you can't get too low," Moore said. "I think as a team, we just got too high, people telling you how good you are when you win a couple of games. And then you lose. You've just got to keep it in the middle."
The Commodores travel next to Columbia, S.C. to face South Carolina Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT (8 p.m. ET). The game will be televised regionally by Jefferson-Pilot. Dave Odom's Gamecocks lost Saturday at No. 17 Mississippi State, 73-65.
Georgia and Vanderbilt meet again in Nashville Feb. 26.