The Vanderbilt Commodores outrebounded the Kentucky Wildcats (35-33), and played good defense, but the offense sputtered a little too much in the 67-59 loss at Lexington, Wednesday night. After falling behind by 14 points early in the second half, the Dores came back to make it a close game and they kept the Kentucky crowd on edge almost until the end. Matt Freije and Chuck Moore turned in solid 17-point performances.
Meanwhile the South Carolina Gamecocks led most of the way against the Alabama Crimson Tide, but eventually found a way to lose 52-51 on their home court. The Gamecocks are tied with the Commodores for fifth in the Eastern Division of the SEC, both with records of 4-7 in conference play. The winner of Saturday's game will keep alive a slender hope for the NCAA tournament and move a game ahead of the other team.
South Carolina has played well in their four conference victories, which include two wins over Tennessee (94-60 in Knoxville and 72-54 in Columbia SC), one over Georgia (80-67 in Columbia), and one over Arkansas (62-60 in Fayetteville AR). Earlier, Vanderbilt defeated the Gamecocks 60-51 in Columbia, a game in which South Carolina got far behind at the outset and could never catch up.
Jamel Bradley, 6'2" senior long-range bomber, continues to lead South Carolina in scoring (13.8 ppg). He has connected on 83 three-pointers to date.
Since the previous game with Vanderbilt, Coach Dave Odum has moved 6'7" junior Chuck Eidson to the point, with 5'11" senior Aaron Lucas going to the wing. Eidson is an excellent floor general whose shooting and scoring (9.2 ppg) has improved since the change. In the previous Vanderbilt-South Carolina game, he was so unsure of his shot that the Commodores were playing off of him. This time they will have to give him more attention.
Lucas (10.6 ppg) is also scoring better since exchanging positions with Eidson. 6'2" sophomore Michael Boynton sees some action at guard.
6'9" sophomore Rolando Howell is the leading rebounder and scores 8.2 ppg, but it is safe to say that he hasn't delivered the kind of performance this year that had been expected. Indeed, all three of the returning big men have underachieved. The two 6'10" junior centers, Marius Petravicius (7.3 ppg) and Tony Kitchings (4.6 ppg), sometimes both disappear in the same game; for instance they had a combined two points against Alabama.
Two other players see action in every game. They are 6'5" junior Chris Warren (4.6 ppg) and 6'7" freshman Carlos Powell (5.8 ppg). Since conference play started, the other four scholarship players rarely get off the bench.
South Carolina is a fair three-point shooting team. They usually defend tenaciously, but they had less success at Kentucky than Vanderbilt, giving up 91 points to the Wildcats in Lexington. On a given night, either Vanderbilt or South Carolina might defeat the other handily.
Now is the time for Vanderbilt to make a run. With two very difficult road games immediately behind them, the remaining five are all winable. They are with South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Kentucky in Nashville, and Tennessee and Arkansas on the road. It would take four wins in these five games for the Commodores to have a reasonable chance at NCAA play.
With the homecourt advantage, the Commodores should beat South Carolina and get a clean sweep of this year's games. However, it won't come easy, and the Gamecocks have already shown twice that they can win on the road in conference play.