Men's Hoops: Vanderbilt-Kentucky preview

After nine consecutive losses, not much was expected from the Vanderbilt Commodores in this year's SEC tournament. Surprise! The Commodores played possibly their best game of the year and upset the Alabama Crimson Tide 82-69 in a first round game on Thursday. In one particular respect, this win was reminiscent of the last success that Vanderbilt had in the tournament, their 76-53 triumph over Mississippi State, March 9, 2000. . .

On that occasion it was an amazing three-point shooting exhibition by freshman guard Rick Jones (eight made out of nine attempted) that brought victory. Last night, freshman guard Mario Moore bombed in six threes out of eight tries, and led all scorers with 25 points. Matt Freije followed closely with 24 points, and Corey Smith dropped in 15, to provide a one-two-three punch that Vanderbilt has not had before this year. 

The Dores (11-17) are now assured of avoiding the worst won-lost percentage for any season since 1945-46 (when they played an abbreviated schedule and went 3-10). Furthermore they won't have to live through the off-season with a long losing streak. 

In facing the Kentucky Wildcats, the Commodores come face-to-face once again with their worst nightmare. The cruel 106-44 beating that they received in Lexington on March 5 was their lowest point of the season, and the second-half breakdown in their 74-52 defeat by Kentucky in Nashville on January 14 transformed an outstanding performance into a big disapppointment. 

Kentucky's personnel is the same as before, and the contributions of each may be summarized briefly. 

NAME HGHT CLASS Min/G PPG 3PTS% FT% REB AST/G

Keith Bogans 6-5 Sr 30.4 15.9 38.1 73.6 3.9 2.9

Gerald Fitch 6-3 Jr 29.1 12.6 41.3 75.6 3.2 2.3

Marquis Estill 6-9 Sr 23.3 11.0 ---- 56.8 5.8 1.1

Erik Daniels 6-8 Jr 25.1 9.8 33.3 60.0 5.1 2.5

Chuck Hayes 6-6 So 28.0 8.9 28.6 80.2 6.7 2.5

Jules Camara 6-11 Sr 19.1 6.8 ---- 78.3 3.5 0.8

Cliff Hawkins 6-1 Jr 20.8 5.9 41.4 75.0 2.2 3.7

Antwain Barbour 6-5 Jr 13.1 3.7 28.1 50.0 1.8 1.0

Kelenna Azubuike 6-5 Fr 8.4 4.0 40.0 75.0 1.2 0.4

Brandon Stockton 5-9 Fr 5.0 1.3 25.0 85.7 0.8 0.4

Josh Carrier 6-5 So 7.4 1.3 27.6 25.0 0.8 0.3

Bernard Cote 6-9 Fr 4.7 1.0 ---- 66.7 1.0 0.0 

Bogans was selected to the all-SEC first team and Estill made the second team. Fitch and Hawkins were honorably mentioned. 

Estill and Camara are among the best shot-blockers in the conference and give Kentucky a feared inside defense. Hawkins may the best defender among conference guards. Fitch, Daniels, and Hayes have played very consistently this season and are extremely valuable team members. 

Kentucky's overall season record is 26-3. The Wildcats went 16-0 in conference play and have won twenty consecutive games. Ordinarily they are not the most explosive offensive team around, but their defense has rightly been described as "suffocating." 

The defeat on Thursday of first-ranked Arizona by downtrodden UCLA (6-12 in conference play and 9-18 overall) in the PAC-10 tournament is a fresh demonstration that anything can happen. (However, it is true that UCLA had the advantage of playing Arizona in Los Angeles.) Perhaps it would be more significant to remember the circumstances of two of Vanderbilt's wins over Kentucky in the SEC tournament. In 1951, the Commodores defeated the Cats 61-57 to win the whole thing after losing twice to them during the regular season by wide margins (74-49 and 89-57). In 1981 they upset Kentucky 60-55 after a season of turmoil that included 78-64 and 80-48 losses to the Wildcats. 

The prediction here is for Vanderbilt to conclude the season with a respectable showing against Kentucky. A defeat in the range of five to 15 points is to be expected, but an upset victory is not impossible. 


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