The next one is Number One.
As the achievements stack up for Vanderbilt, the only unbeaten team in SEC play, so do the challenges. In the wake of a 10th straight victory overall, a fifth straight in conference play and the third on the road in the SEC, the Commodores travel to Kentucky on Saturday, where they will face the top-ranked Wildcats (3 p.m., ESPN) at Rupp Arena.
Their most recent noteworthy accomplishment was Wednesday’s 85-76 victory over No. 14 Tennessee at Knoxville, where they had won just once in the previous seven seasons.
“We just finished this one (Tennessee) and now we get to go play that one (Kentucky),” coach Kevin Stallings said. “Then after that one we get Mississippi State (7 p.m, Wednesday, Memorial Gymnasium). There are no nights off in this league.”
A week ago there were four SEC teams that were unbeaten in conference play — Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi State. Tennessee lost to Georgia and Mississippi State fell to Alabama last Saturday. On Tuesday, a day after it climbed to No. 1 in the national rankings, Kentucky lost to South Carolina.
All three of those losses were on the road.
The Commodores, who entered the national rankings this week (No. 21 AP, No. 23 coaches) have avoided any such misstep, but now have to go to arguably the toughest place for an SEC team to play.
“I think (Wednesday’s victory) proved we can win on the road,” senior guard Jermaine Beal said. “We’ve won three games already on the road and we have another big one Saturday at Kentucky.
“… Everybody always says that Vandy is just a good home team. We want to prove people wrong and show we can win in a hostile environment.”
Vanderbilt actually has won the last two times it faced a No. 1 team. It defeated Tennessee 72-69 on Feb. 26, 2008 and Florida 83-70 on Feb. 17, 2007.
Both of those games were at Memorial Gymnasium.
Similarly, the Commodores have topped Kentucky four times when the Wildcats were the nation’s top-ranked team, most recently 1993. All of those were at home.
“We’ve been working on trying to make sure we come out on the road and play hard and physical,” junior center A.J. Ogilvy said. “I think that was shown (Wednesday) night. … Just staying undefeated in the SEC and winning a road game, I think this was an important game for us.”
Vanderbilt already has more road wins in conference play than it had in all of 2008-09, and every other SEC team already has lost at least once on the road.
That does not mean that the worst is past.
“You need to win your home games and find a way to split on the road or better, if you can,” Stallings said. “To start the way we’ve started is great. But this league is so hard,
“Just look at what we have now.”