Kevin Stallings Talks SEC Tourney

TAMPA-- Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings addressed the media today. The No. 5 seeded Commodores face No. 4 seed Alabama on Thursday (6:30 p.m., Raycom).

CLAUDE FELTON: Coach Stallings, opening comments, please.

COACH KEVIN STALLINGS: Well, we're excited to be here. We feel like we've played our best basketball at the end of the season, which we're pleased about. I think that just in my opinion, I think this tournament is such that there may be more teams that are capable of winning this SEC Tournament. Rick Stansbury and I were talking about it. And then maybe any other that either one of us have been in 10 or 11 years.

So hopefully there's going to be a team that comes down here, gets hot and plays well. And maybe a couple of them. And we certainly hope to be that one. But we're looking forward to it. Alabama's playing very well. Very well. I think both teams are playing much better than they were the first time that we played. So it should make for an entertaining game. We look forward to that. We know we'll have to play well if we're going to win, but that's what we're hoping to do.

Q. Same question for you. Where do you feel the team has improved here recently?

COACH STALLINGS: I think that a lot of what's made us better is that our team needed time to figure itself out. We would have liked to have figured it out a month before we did, maybe,but we didn't. Whether it was possible to figure it out that quickly or not, I guess, is anybody's opinion: But I just think we've sort of figured each other out. I think that our younger guys, which is most of our team, are playing better. They're more comfortable with what we're trying to do. And, you know, I think A.J. talked about being loose and more aggressive on offense. I think we've hit a little bit of a stride offensively which has made us better. I think that's given our defense some energy.

I think our defense at times this year has been pretty good. But your defense loses energy when you go through major scoring droughts, and, which we've done for a lot of the season. So hopefully, our offense will be consistent this weekend, and it will continue to give our defense energy.

Q. This may seem sort of like an obvious question, but is there a particular philosophy you have for getting a team through four games in four days type of tournament, and how to get them prepared for kind of the grind of it all?

COACH STALLINGS: Well, I think that you can't really look at it as a four-day proposition, because, you know, we know that anybody in the league could beat us. We feel like we can beat anybody. So the big thing, I think, as you enter a tournament is as you try to break it down into small parts for your team. And in this particular instance, we just have focused all of our energy on what we need to do to be ready to play Alabama. Then hopefully we advance and we play Friday, and we've got to focus all of on our energy on what we have to do to beat Tennessee.

I think it's the only way you can do it. I don't think you can take it two games at a time or three days at a time. I think philosophically or theoretically you would come in and say okay, we want to be there for four days so we need to make sure we utilize our bench so that our guys stay fresh.

Well, that's exactly what we'd like to do. But you know what, if tomorrow night's game calls for me to leave my starters in or whoever, those guys, A.J.'s going to play 35 minutes if that's what we have to do.

So you can have an idea of what you want to do. But as Roy Williams used to say, when the ball goes up in the air, it's by the seat of your pants anyway. So that's how we'll do it.

Q. After having just played Arkansas, I wondered what you thought of Fortson and Clarke, as a freshman back court, what kind of features they have?

COACH STALLINGS: Well, they're both very talented. They both hurt us in that game and they're both very good players. I think that Clarke is an outstanding distributor and penetrator of the ball. He's been inconsistent shooting it from the perimeter, and that's what he did very well, particularly in the first half against us, was he made shots. When he makes shots, it's almost impossible. It's a little like Devin Downey, he's so fast and quick and good with the ball. When he starts making perimeter jump shots you're at his mercy.

Clarke is an outstanding long-range shooter with enough savvy and skill he can put the ball on the floor and go by you on occasion. But he makes his living from outside the arc, and he has deep range and a pure stroke, so he's just a guy that kind of lives off of Fortson's penetration and the other things that happens on their team. John does some nice things to get him the ball. So that's a very good back court to be looking at for the next three years if you're John Pelphrey.

Q. When you look at Alabama now, how much different are they now versus when you guys played them?

COACH STALLINGS: I think the big difference that I see and that I've seen on tape is that they're just shooting the ball so much better from the perimeter. And you know, you go back and look at their game films, and when they make shots from the perimeter, they're awfully difficult to beat. You go back to look at the Mississippi game and they were unbelievable. They made some shots the other day against Tennessee.

When they make perimeter three-point jump shots, it's because they're very big, they're very athletic. Very athletic. And so they've got some depth. They've developed their depth in a nice way. So it's, you know, it's a big challenge. It's going to be a very big challenge for us.

Like I said, when we played the first time, I didn't think either team was playing well at that particular time. I go back and look at the game film and I think both teams are much better now than they were then. But that's the biggest difference I see is just their perimeter shooting.

Q. In preparing for Alabama, obviously you saw their last game against Tennessee. Do you see any differences in Tennessee? And I know you weren't studying them, but did anything grab you, just some differences from the times you played Tennessee? I know it's been a while?

COACH STALLINGS: Yeah, that didn't look like the Tennessee team we played. It looked like a total difference to me. That didn't look like the Tennessee teams that we ever play. We've never played a Tennessee team that looked like that. So I'm sure that was just a -- I don't know. Must have been a bad day.

Q. Your style of play in the tournament has always been talked about, the other tournament. You know, the way you like to play, how tough it is for teams to match-up. There are other teams that fit that category, too, Herb Sendek, a few other guys that play a similar style. But in your league, you know, everybody knows one another so well. Familiarity. How much of a factor is it to be playing a team that knows you well, just as you know them well when you play another time in the conference tournament?

COACH STALLINGS: Well, I think that what happens in league play is all the secrets are gone. There's nothing that Alabama will do that will really surprise us. And at this point in the season you shouldn't be surprised in a way. But we've always enjoyed getting out of league and playing, because your players start working again, the things that you do. The little things that you you like to do that are effective become effective again.

In a conference tournament, what ends up happening is the team that executes the best, plays the best defense, you know, kind of wins the loose ball battle, those things. The team that's usually the most ready to play and can sustain that for the greater time of the 40 minutes is usually the team that wins.

That's why a lot of times, in my opinion, conference tournament play ends up looking like a slugfest. Because it just becomes a slug-it-out kind of thing, because Alabama knows where we're going, we know where they're going. So that's just the nature of conference tournaments because of the familiarity that you talked about.

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