Dores Try for Three in a Row in Columbia

For the first time in five tries, Vanderbilt won an SEC road game on Wednesday, outlasting the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens. The Commodores moved to 4-4 in league play and have put together their first winning streak of the conference season with the win. A crucial four-game homestand begins Tuesday, but first, the ‘Dores stop in Columbia for a rematch with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Facing a weaker-than-normal Georgia team, the Commodores showed some encouraging signs on Wednesday.  For the first time all season, the ‘Dores displayed some adaptability against the Dawgs, prevailing despite being forced into a grind-it-out style of play.  The 67 points were the lowest Vanderbilt has scored in any win this season.  Balanced scoring won the day for the Commodores, as four starters scored in double figures, led by Alex Gordon's 14 points.  Perhaps most encouraging was the play of Ross Neltner, whose clutch three-pointer and reverse lay-up sealed the victory.  The senior looked perfectly comfortable knocking down baseline jumpers and only committed one turnover.

The Commodores put together their most complete defensive effort of the SEC season against the Bulldogs, utilizing a zone to limit Sundiata Gaines' penetration while still holding their own on the defensive glass.  Most importantly, Vanderbilt won the turnover battle significantly, coughing up the rock just nine times compared to Georgia's 15 miscues.

Vanderbilt and South Carolina met in Nashville in January for the first conference game of the season.  In his last truly dominant performance, A.J. Ogilvy scored 21 second-half points to help the Commodores pull away from the Gamecocks.  The freshman center was able to get any shot he wanted against a weak Carolina frontcourt, and his eight free throw attempts were more than the entire Gamecock squad attempted.  Led by a combined 43 points from Devan Downey and Zam Fredrick, the visitors outshot the ‘Dores from beyond the arc.  The Gamecocks also forced 17 turnovers while committing just 10, but in the end the free throw discrepancy was the difference.

South Carolina has gone 3-3 since their conference-opening loss to Vanderbilt.  The Gamecocks have survived through a tough portion of their schedule, winning at Arkansas and Ole Miss to offset home losses to Tennessee and Florida.  Like the Commodores, Dave Odom's squad carries a two-game winning streak into Saturday's game, coming off a home win over Georgia and the upset of Ole Miss.

Devan Downey, the Gamecocks' 5-9 floor general, kicked off what has been a stellar SEC season with a 22-point effort against the Commodores.  Since then, the sophomore point guard has scored at least 24 points in five of his last six games.  Currently, Downey shares the conference scoring lead with LSU's Marcus Thornton, each pouring in 19.8 points per game.  Besides a nine-point outing against Georgia, Downey's game in Memorial was his worst in SEC play.  While he led his team in scoring against Vanderbilt, he shot just 8-of-23 from the floor, including 2-of-10 from three-point range.  The Commodores were content to let the sophomore hoist long jumpers, anything to keep him out of the lane.  Don't be surprised to see the same strategy on Saturday.  If Downey can knife into the lane consistently, he could go for 30 against the visiting ‘Dores, not to mention the havoc he can wreak defensively.  A combination of Downey's quickness and Commodore carelessness made for five steals for the SEC leader in takeaways.

Fellow guard Zam Fredrick has been as dangerous a scorer as Downey, albeit less consistent.  He's averaging 16.3 points in SEC play and has carried the Gamecocks on the rare occasions when Downey has struggled.  Most recently, he scored 23 points to lead Carolina over a Georgia team that gave the Gamecocks fits at home.  Against the Commodores, Fredrick knocked down five triples en route to 21 points.  He and Downey nearly sank the ‘Dores themselves, but they didn't quite shoot well enough to win; Fredrick went 8-for-20 from the floor to complement Downey's 8-for-23.  The 6-0 junior is shooting 42.3 percent from beyond the arc in his last four games, and he's shown the ability to make contested shots in big situations.  The Commodores cannot afford to let their focus on Downey leave Fredrick open too often.

Sophomore forward Dominique Archie was a non-factor offensively when the Gamecocks and Commodores first met, scoring just two points on five shots.  Since his anemic offensive outing in Memorial, though, Archie has scored in double figures in every game.  In the Gamecocks' last game, the forward went 8-for-12 from the floor and scored 20 points in the win over Ole Miss.  Archie has emerged as yet another dangerous perimeter shooter for South Carolina; after making a total of nine three-pointers in non-conference games, he's converted on 9-of-20 attempts from distance since the Vanderbilt game.  Archie is the Gamecocks' leading rebounder as well (6.5), so he'll certainly make his presence felt in Columbia.

Dwayne Day, the lone senior on South Carolina's roster, chipped in a season-high 14 points against the ‘Dores in January.  He's averaged just 5.8 points on 36.6 percent shooting in the six games since.  In Memorial, Day tossed in four three-pointers; he's managed four more since.  The 6-5 forward is shooting just 40.6 percent from the field, worst among Gamecock regulars.  Though he hurt the Commodores from long distance, Day has not proven to be a consistent three-point shooter.  He's shooting 28.8 percent from downtown this season, down from just 29.2 percent last year.  Despite his offensive struggles, Day will be an important player in Saturday's game.  His length and athleticism held Shan Foster to a then season-low 13 points.  If anything, Day's defensive effort earned him significant minutes this time around.

Sophomore forward Evaldas Baniulis didn't step on the floor in the first meeting with the Commodores, but since then, the Lithuanian has started four of six games.  The 6-7 sharpshooter has taken the place of freshman big men Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow as a result of Coach Odom's decision to try and create mismatches by going small.  Baniulis is averaging 6.6 points per game since the loss at Memorial.  All but four of his points over that span have come from beyond the three-point line.  The sophomore has drained 20 triples this season, 12 of which have come during SEC play.  With Baniulis in the line-up, the Gamecocks boast four legitimate three-point threats, forcing the opposing power forwards to play perimeter defense.  For the Commodores, that means Ross Neltner and Darshawn McClellan must defend out beyond the arc; fortunately for Vanderbilt, each has the athleticism to do so.

Adding depth to the Gamecock backcourt is sophomore Brandis Raley-Ross.  Before a sprained knee forced him to miss time in January, the 6-2 shooting guard was among the nation's best three-point shooters.  Since coming back from the injury against Vanderbilt, he has attempted just six triples, but Raley-Ross' 61.5 percent shooting from three-point land gives Carolina yet another threat from deep.  If he sees significant minutes on Saturday, the ‘Dores need to keep a hand in his face when he's on the perimeter; otherwise, Raley-Ross isn't a major offensive threat.

A pair of freshman forwards gives the Gamecocks some much-needed bulk in the post.  Sam Muldrow, a 6-9 athletic power forward, scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first match-up with the ‘Dores.  He hasn't reached that total again in SEC play, but his work on the glass makes him a valuable component of the Gamecocks' rotation.  Muldrow's 4.5 rebounds per game are good for third on the team, as are his 29 offensive rebounds.  The freshman is the biggest of Carolina's rotation players; he'll get his fair share of minutes against A.J. Ogilvy.

Mike Holmes, a 6-7 forward, saw significant minutes in the South Carolina rotation until a technical foul disqualified him in Memorial.  Since then, Holmes has averaged just 4.2 minutes per game, but against a much bigger Commodore team, he will likely see the floor more often.  When he does get in the game, Holmes gives the Gamecocks a much-needed rebounding presence; his 4.6 boards per game are good for second on the team.

The Gamecock offense begins and ends with Downey and Fredrick.  The backcourt pair has combined for 38.6 of the team's 68.9 points per game in SEC play.  Because both have point guard skills, Downey and Fredrick set the tone for South Carolina's prudent style of play.  The Gamecocks are among the nation's best at limiting turnovers; they cough it up just 11.1 times per game – 16 percent of their possessions.  Three-point shooting is South Carolina's other primary offensive strength.  They rank fourth in the SEC with 8.2 triples per game and second to the Commodores at 40.2 percent shooting from three-point land.

The ‘Dores finally broke through on the road on Wednesday, gaining some much-needed confidence away from Memorial by dispatching of the feisty Bulldogs.  With four straight home games on the horizon, Vanderbilt has a chance to gain some ground in the race for the SEC title; a second road win would send the team back to Nashville riding some serious momentum.  To move to 5-4 in league play and sweep the young Gamecocks, here are the keys for the Commodores:

  • Grind It Out:  A.J. Ogilvy gives the ‘Dores a mismatch against most teams, but the Gamecocks are one of the smallest teams in the league.  Consequently, slowing the game down to ensure that the Aussie gets touches becomes a necessity for Vanderbilt.  Ogilvy has disappointed during most of SEC play, but he dominated the Gamecocks the first time around.  If his teammates make a concerted effort to feed him the ball on most possessions, the freshman has a decent chance of logging his first 30-point game.
  • Lock Down the Lane:  The Commodore backcourt sagged off of Downey and Fredrick in the first game, allowing them to launch long three-pointers in order to keep them out of the lane.  The high-scoring tandem managed seven trifectas, but against a Vanderbilt defense that has been highly susceptible to dribble penetration, the Gamecock guards could have done a lot more damage.  The ‘Dores used a zone to keep Georgia's Sundiata Gaines from penetrating; the zone should have the same effect against South Carolina, but the Gamecock shooters may make the Commodores pay.
  • Balancing Act:  In each of Vanderbilt's last two games, both wins, four starters have reached double figures in scoring.  Previously, the ‘Dores had struggled when neither Foster nor Ogilvy reached 20 points, but with the resurgence of Alex Gordon and the emergence of Jermaine Beal as scorers, Vanderbilt's stars face less pressure to carry the team.  Against a small team like the Gamecocks, Ogilvy is almost guaranteed to get 20, but the added threats of Foster and Gordon's perimeter shooting, Beal's penetration, and Neltner and McClellan's mid-range work should present too much for Carolina to handle.

Prediction:  Devan Downey, Zam Fredrick and A.J. Ogilvy are the most important players on Saturday.  If the Gamecock guards can maintain their three-point shooting and still get penetration against the Commodores, the visitors are in for a long day.  However, if the ‘Dores can slow the game down and get Ogilvy a touch per possession, they'll have a significant advantage.  With the confidence gained from the gritty win in Athens, the Commodores should be able to duplicate the effort in Columbia, where home court will not be much of an advantage for the Gamecocks.  Final score:  Vanderbilt 82, South Carolina 77.


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