Vanderbilt men’s basketball coach Kevin Stallings remembers it as disappointing.
Forward Andre Walker recalls being outplayed.
For Jeffery Taylor, it was the outcome that stuck with him. “We just lost,” Taylor said. “It was a tough game for us.”
Yes, Vanderbilt’s 76-69 loss to Western Kentucky last year was one of the low points of an otherwise successful season. Coming off a road loss to Illinois, the Commodores played the Hilltoppers at a neutral site in downtown Nashville, Bridgestone Arena.
Vanderbilt, which was ranked 24th at the time, led by just one point at halftime and was outscored and outrebounded in the second half.
“They played a lot better than we did,” Stallings said. “It was one of our more disappointing performances of the season. We were kind of broken.”
It served as a wakeup call and one the Commodores responded to — they rattled off wins in their next 10 games.
Vanderbilt plans to be alert when Western Kentucky comes to town this year. The Commodores (5-1) host the Hilltoppers (3-3) at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Memorial Gym.
Western Kentucky is coming off an 87-85 double overtime loss to South Carolina on Saturday. Four players scored in double figures and Juan Pattillo paced the squad with 24 points and 18 rebounds.
Pattillo, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward, is a transfer from the University of Oklahoma and is averaging 16.7 points and 11.2 points a game.
“He is not a back-to-the-basket guy. He is a driver, a great rebounder on both ends,” Stallings said. “He is really more of a forward that kind of plays the center spot for them. But he is very athletic and good with the ball.”
Western Kentucky, like Vanderbilt, was at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off nearly two weeks ago. The Hilltoppers defeated Hofstra but fell to Davidson and eventual tournament champion Minnesota.
Walker did catch a glimpse of Western Kentucky and was impressed by its offense. Along with Pattillo, Steffphon Pettigrew averages 16.7 points a game and Sergio Kerusch averages 13.2 points.
Plus, they like to push the ball.
“They are very athletic. They run really well in transition and they try to get to the basket,” Walker said. “They are just really aggressive offensively.”
Vanderbilt, on the other hand, is on a three-game winning streak. The Commodores pulled away for a 86-73 victory against a formidable Appalachian State squad on Saturday.
Offensive balance and solid defense has been key early on for Vanderbilt. John Jenkins leads the team with nearly 20 points a game. Center Festus Ezeli and Taylor are both averaging 11.3 points and Ezeli is also hauling down 8.2 rebounds a game. Plus, Brad Tinsley is averaging 9.2 points and three assists.
On the other end, opponents are averaging just 61 points a game and are being outrebounded 42-31.
The road gets tougher for the Commodores, though, as they host crosstown rival Belmont on Saturday before traveling to face No. 9 Missouri next week.
Don’t think that Vanderbilt is looking past Western Kentucky, though. Taylor said that didn’t happen last year and it certainly won’t happen now.
“We don’t really do that here,” Taylor said. “We put in the same kind of excitement and the same kind of preparation as any other team. They present a challenge for anybody that plays them. So we have to come to play.”
• Taylor says he is back to a 100 percent after getting his eye scratched last week in a game against Grambling State.
Last Wednesday, as he was driving to the basket in the first half, he took an elbow and some fingernails to his left eye. It caused him to leave the game and left him with blurred vision and a swollen eye. He said the swelling had decreased by Saturday’s game against Appalachian State.
Still, Taylor didn’t seem his regular self, scoring just three points on 1-of-8 shooting while picking up four fouls and being limited to just 21 minutes. The junior said he was still bothered a little bit by the injury but wouldn’t use that as an excuse for his performance.
“Sometimes they aren’t going to go in all the time and there were a couple (shots) that laid there and rolled on the rim,” he said. “Weird stuff that happens but then you learn from it and you recognize what you did wrong. You go on from there and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
• The Vanderbilt women’s basketball team will also be on the court Wednesday — at Bowling Green for a 6 p.m. matchup.
The Commodores, ranked 23rd in the latest Associated Press poll, are 4-1 coming off their sweep of their Thanksgiving Tournament. They blew out Quinnipiac 111-53 last Friday and then survived a pesky Princeton team for a 74-68 in the championship game on Sunday.
Bowling Green is 6-1 and has won six straight since losing its season opener to Evansville. The Falcons were 27-7 last year on their way to their sixth straight Mid-American Conference championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The Commodores are 2-2 in the all-time series against Bowling Green but the Falcons have won the last two. They knocked off Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2007 and won 66-60 at Memorial Gym last year.
“Bowling Green will be just like (Princeton) — extremely well coached, play hard the whole time and probably the only difference is they’ll shoot even better from 3-point range,” Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. “If we want to win that game, it is going to be on the defensive end."