Kentucky-Vanderbilt Preview

Whenever the nation’s top-ranked team visits Memorial Gym, the

Vanderbilt Commodores have a knack for defending their home

court.

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

stage.

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

1987.

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

excited.”

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

sideline.

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

starters.

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

Dec. 10.

“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

team.”

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

impressed.

“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,

underrated defensively.”

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

Tuesday.

That was Kentucky’s 16th straight win, which includes four

straight by 20 points or more. Davis insists cockiness is not a

problem.

“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

unbeatable.”

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

this report.

Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker