Xavier-Vanderbilt Preview

Aside from a few slip-ups, Vanderbilt has been tough against

non-conference foes at home over the past four-plus seasons –

something Xavier forward Andre Walker knows quite well.

Walker, a Vanderbilt transfer, looks to help the 11th-ranked

Musketeers beat an SEC team for the ninth time in 10 tries when

they visit the No. 20 Commodores on Monday night.

A fifth-year senior, Walker started 40 games and averaged 4.0

points from 2007-2011 for Vanderbilt, though he missed all but

three games of the 2008-09 season with a knee injury. He opted to

transfer to Xavier following last season and wasn’t forced to sit

out a year since he earned an undergraduate degree from his

previous school.

“It’s a weird experience,” Walker said. “I don’t know how many

people transfer and play their former team. I talk to a few of the

guys (from Vanderbilt) once or twice per week. It’ll be good to see

each other.”

Personal relationships aside, Walker knows playing at Vanderbilt

can be a tough experience. The Commodores have won 38 of 41 home

games against non-conference opponents since 2007.

“They’re a very tough-minded, defensive-oriented team,” Walker

said. “They like to push the ball in transition and have a very

high-powered offense.”

Xavier (4-0) seems to have a solid chance to slow Vanderbilt, as

it hasn’t allowed more than 63 points in any of its wins. Friday’s

70-56 victory over Georgia gave the Musketeers their eighth win in

their last nine games versus SEC opponents.

Tu Holloway took only four shots and scored 12 points while

nursing a sore finger suffered in practice last week. He dished out

a game-high four assists while Kenny Frease (12 points), Mark Lyons

(10) and Travis Taylor (10) also scored in double figures.

Holloway commended his teammates for stepping up to prove Xavier

doesn’t have to rely solely on him.

“It makes the game a lot easier for me,” said Holloway, who’s

averaging 15.0 points – 2.8 fewer than Lyons’ team-high 17.8. “I

don’t have to force the issue and sometimes take bad shots or have

bad turnovers because I’m trying to make plays.

“As a point guard, that’s what I want. Maybe if I was a shooting

guard, I wouldn’t be happy. But I’m a point guard. It makes the

game easy for me when I can dish the rock off.”

Holloway hopes his finger will have healed by the time Xavier

faces Vanderbilt for the first time since winning 80-68 in the

first round of the 1997 NCAA tournament.

The Commodores (5-1) began the season ranked seventh in the AP

Poll, but they’ve played below coach Kevin Stallings’

expectations.

Vanderbilt had its 22-game non-conference home winning streak

snapped Nov. 13 with a 71-58 loss to Cleveland State. The

Commodores followed that with some uninspired performances against

unranked opponents, including a 95-73 victory over winless Monmouth

on Friday – a margin that masked what Stallings felt was a

less-than-impressive effort.

“I feel like we really got outworked, out-toughed, outplayed and

we won because we have superior talent and superior players, size,

strength and athleticism, skill,” Stallings said. “But we lost the

fight portion of the game tonight, and that’s disappointing.”

Vanderbilt was already missing center Festus Ezeli – out until

mid-December with a knee injury – and Steve Tchiengang sat out

Friday’s game with concussion-like symptoms after being hit in the

face during a win over Oregon State on Nov. 21.

John Jenkins has made helped minimize the impact of their

absences, averaging a team-leading 20.2 points while shooting 42.6

percent from 3-point range.

Xavier has lost its last four road games against ranked

opponents since a 73-72 win at then-No. 25 Dayton on Feb. 22,

2003.