Vanderbilt was allotted a full 60 minutes to work out on the Georgia Dome floor, and coach Kevin Stallings made use of every one of them. The Commodores staged an upbeat full-court scrimmage, with special emphasis on transition defense. It was a stark contrast to past years, when Stallings had used the allotted time for a light workout to acclimatize his team to the Georgia Dome.
All players were on hand and healthy except for Darius Coulibaly, who was excused by Stallings to complete a course requirement in Washington, D.C.
Stallings later made an appearance at a press conference with players Matt Freije and Chuck Moore.
"I've been pleased by our preparation and pleased by our practices," said Stallings. "We're excited to be here. We think we have some things to play for.
"It seems like we always have close games with LSU. Every game we've had with them since I've been here has been close, dating back to my first year here when we won 63-62. It'll be a tough game, a hard-fought game, a game that will probably be relatively low-scoring, and that's OK with us."
LSU, coached by John Brady, took the court for an hour immediately after Vanderbilt. The Tigers are led by leading scorer Ronald Dupree, who leads the team in scoring with 16.7 points per game, and is second in the SEC in rebounding with 8.6 per game.
"I think that LSU does as good a job as any team in the league at preparing for you and taking away what you do well," said Stallings. "They'll guard Plavich jersey-to-jersey and try not to let him have any looks at all. They're a good defensive team, and they're playing even better than the first time we played them."
The Tigers will be without Collis Temple, who had surgery Mar.1 to repair an injured foot and ankle. Temple injured the foot in the Vanderbilt game on Feb. 6, a game which Vanderbilt won, 65-60.
"We snuck away with a victory at our house, and we know they definitely want revenge," said Chuck Moore. "We'll just have to fight them, just like every game."
Should the Commodores win Thursday, they will face Georgia (21-8, 10-6), the top seed in the SEC East. Vandy split with Georgia during the regular season.
In other opening round games Thursday, Tennessee takes on Arkansas (2:15), Auburn meets Florida (6:30), and South Carolina takes on Ole Miss (8:45).
VANDERBILT PRESS CONFERENCE (partial)
Press: You've had games this year when your offense just exploded, and others when you were held to around 43 points. How do you prepare your team to insure that the offense is there, and especially in an environment like this?
Kevin Stallings: Our lack of offense during those dry stretches during the season had a lot to do with our mental frame of mind. We're way past that now. Now, I'm not saying we're going to score a lot of points tomorrow, but... what I have figured out about my team is that it's much more about our frame of mind than anything else.
Press: Coach, do you feel like you might slide into the NCAA tournament if you won a couple of games.
Stallings: I learned after two years ago never to speculate about that kind of thing ever again. I do know this... if we win four games, they'll invite us.
Press: Could you compare your situation coming into this year's tournament with the previous two? It seems to me you have a longer bench, and you're relatively healthy.
Stallings: We're the healthiest we've been in any of the three tournaments. You don't know what a relief that is. Two years ago we came down here and had a guy come off the bench and hit 8-of-9 3's, and we also had the best player in the league. So any time we walked out we felt like we had a chance. Last year was not even worth discussing-- we'll just move past that. But we feel good about ourselves right now. Our team self-esteem is pretty good.
Press: Kevin, what do you attribute that to? What brought that about, those good vibrations?
Stallings: I think if you asked them, they'd say I've gotten off their ass a little bit. (Laughter; to Chuck) Is that what you'd say? (Pause) He says, not in those words. (Laughter) I think we hit a stretch about two or three weeks ago where we started feeling sorry for ourselves. We sort of hit a wall. Our young guys hit a wall. It was interesting. As a lot of teams do, when you're struggling, you meet and talk. There's a wonderful dialogue that goes on sometimes in our meetings. It was so interesting to look at everybody else's response, and at Chuck's response. Chuck was looking at everybody else like, what's wrong with you guys? What do you mean, you're tired? What do you mean, Coach is bitching at you too much? Chuck didn't feel any of that. Well, Chuck's a senior, and seniors know what it's like. That's why he's so consistent. Everybody else is sitting there, poor me, "Coach told me he didn't like my socks the other day." I think it just took some leadership from Chuck and some understanding from our players that it's a long year. You can't crumble when you hit the wall. I think from that time we bounced back a little bit. I told them I would be a little nicer to them... and I probably lied.
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Press: A couple of years ago the NIT wasn't real exciting for some of your players. With a younger group, would that make it more exciting if an NIT berth should come after this?
Stallings: Absolutely. Our goal all season long has been to play in a post-season tournament. That's still a goal. We would be very happy to make the NIT if we don't win four in a row. Our guys are enthused about playing. We want to continue playing, and hopefully we will.