Whenever the nation’s top-ranked team visits Memorial Gym, the
Vanderbilt Commodores have a knack for defending their home
They feed off the frenzy of a sellout crowd that bounces around
the 60-year-old building’s cinderblock walls and the unique seating
arrangements that puts players in the middle of an elevated
The last four No. 1 teams to visit the Southeastern Conference’s
oldest men’s basketball arena have left with a loss dating back to
The Commodores’ goal is to make it five when No. 1 Kentucky
visits Saturday night.
“They certainly do a good job getting us excited for the game,”
Vanderbilt senior center Festus Ezeli said of the home fans.
“They’ve been talking about it too for a while, so we’re
Vanderbilt is 7-14 all-time against No. 1 teams with six of
those wins coming at Memorial – the only gym in college basketball
with the team benches on the end lines rather than the
The Commodores beat Tennessee in 2008, Florida in 2007, Kentucky
under Rick Pitino in 1993 and North Carolina in 1987.
Kentucky coach John Calipari isn’t sure how his young team with
three freshmen and two sophomores starting will handle the scene
featuring a late tipoff after a full day of excitement thanks to
ESPN’s GameDay broadcasting from Memorial.
“It’s nuts, doesn’t need to be GameDay,” Calipari said. “I heard
they changed the benches to the sides. Did they? They didn’t. See,
that’s a problem.”
Add to that, Kentucky is just 3-7 at Memorial since 2002 where
the Commodores beat the Wildcats 81-77 last season.
Vanderbilt junior John Jenkins said the most recent wins over
No. 1 are moot.
“We’ve got to win this one,” he noted.
These Wildcats are very young with Calipari rotating four
freshmen, two sophomores and a senior. Doron Lamb is among the few
Wildcats to play meaningful minutes at Memorial.
“It’s tough out there,” Lamb said. “It’s different because how
you get subbed in, the benches are behind the basket. We’re not
really worried about that. We’re worried about how we’re going to
guard them, how we’re going to run our offense against them.”
Vanderbilt was the team expected to challenge Kentucky in the
SEC as the preseason pick to finish second, countering the
Wildcats’ athleticism and talent with the league’s most seasoned
Instead, Kentucky (24-1, 10-0) is looking to match the 2002-03
team’s perfect run through SEC play. Vandy coach Kevin Stallings
notes the Wildcats are just a shot away from being undefeated if
not for Christian Watford’s 3-pointer at the buzzer at Indiana on
“You watch them play, and it is an absolutely difficult
challenge because they’re not ranked No. 1 because somebody just
decided to put Kentucky in the top,” Stallings said. “They’ve
earned their way there and for a good reason. They’re good on
defense. They’re good on the boards. Every statistic you look at,
their league stats are completely dominant … They’re a tough
The Commodores (17-7, 6-3) have the SEC’s top two scorers in
league play in Jenkins and senior Jeffery Taylor. But they’ve also
struggled with injuries and consistency this season. Now healthy,
they know they need a win Saturday night to have any chance at
chasing down Kentucky.
“It’s going to be a really tough game for us,” Jenkins said.
Vanderbilt’s challenge will be scoring against Kentucky, the
nation’s stingiest defense holding opponents to 35.8 percent
shooting. Kentucky features the nation’s leading shot blocker in
freshman Anthony Davis. It’s a combination that has Stallings very
“Obviously Davis changes the game around the goal, and he makes
you think about other options because trying to take it in in front
of him is not a very intelligent option most of the time,”
Stallings said. “So they’re very, very, very, in my opinion,
Vanderbilt can counter from beyond the arc.
The Commodores lead the SEC averaging 9.1 3-pointers a game a
league play even though the Wildcats held another efficient team
from behind the arc, Florida, to go 6 of 27 in a 78-58 victory on
That was Kentucky’s 16th straight win, which includes four
straight by 20 points or more. Davis insists cockiness is not a
“No, not at all,” Davis said. “We’ve just got to go out there,
play hard. We’re confident. Coach Cal tries to keep that in our
head to a certain extent, not get a big-headed thing that we’re
The Wildcats are one of the nation’s best and have their sights
set on a national title – more reasons why Vanderbilt wants this
win so much.
“We’re trying to arrive,” Stallings said. “We want to be a
program that people respect in that vein.”
AP Sports Writer Colin Fly in Lexington, Ky., contributed to
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