Late-season surge lightens Vanderbilt's tournament load

Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 10:56pm

Perhaps it would benefit Vanderbilt to get right back on the floor.

The Commodores, however, earned an extra day off before they start play in Southeastern Conference Tournament, which begins Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena. They avoided being one of four teams to play on the first day of the expanded tournament when they held on for a 74-64 victory over South Carolina on Saturday in their final regular season contest.

Vanderbilt instead will open the tournament Thursday as the No. 10 seed in a rubber match against No. 7 Arkansas (6:30 p.m., SEC Network).

Absent the challenge of winning five games in five straight days in order to repeat as tournament champions, it must win four in a row in the 14-team field that for the first time includes Missouri and Texas A&M.

“If you’re going to last as long as you hope to last then [the bye] is probably pretty important,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “But there have been other teams in other leagues that have won. ... I think Connecticut and Syracuse both won the Big East Tournament and happened to win five games. I’m glad that we’re not hit with that challenge because I’m not real confident in our ability to have been able to win five in five days.”

Winning once was a challenge just more than a month ago for Vanderbilt (14-16, 8-10).

Mired in a four-game losing streak and struggling to score 60 points during that stretch, the Commodores finally pulled themselves out of the basement. Since a 57-56 loss to LSU on Feb. 6 they have won six of nine. The only losses during that stretch have been to No. 5 seed Tennessee and the top two seeds, Florida and Kentucky.

More dependable and consistent scoring from Rod Odom and big man Josh Henderson, along with breakout games by guards Dai-Jon Parker and Kevin Bright, have allowed them to keep up and — more often than not — finish on top.

Against South Carolina (14-17, 4-14), Parker and Odom both put together big first halves and finished with 18 points apiece. More noteworthy was the team’s play down the stretch, when a 12-point lead whittled to two with less than four minutes left. Henderson and Parker, who had a career-high in points, each responded with huge baskets. Then Vanderbilt stayed poised by making eight of 10 free throws in the final 51 seconds.

Heady play that wasn’t there six weeks ago when they blew double-digit leads on multiple occasions now has the Commodores believing they can extend their season for at least another day.

“We watched the tape [from past games] and our body language is really bad, everybody would drop their shoulders and be like, ‘Oh man, this is happening again,’” Odom said. “I think now when another team goes on a run, guys are just like, ‘OK, we’ve just got to stay composed, make shots and make free throws.’ I just think guys have a lot more confidence in themselves down the stretch.”

SEC TOURNAMENT
(at Bridgestone Arena)

Wednesday's games
First round

No. 12 South Carolina vs. No. 13 Mississippi State, 6:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
No. 11 Texas A&M vs. No.14 Auburn, 9 p.m. (SEC Network)

Thursday's games
Second round

No. 8 Georgia vs. No. 9 LSU, noon (SEC Network)
Game 1 Winner vs.  No. 5 Tennessee, 2:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
No. 7 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Vanderbilt, 6:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Game 2 Winner vs. No. 6 Missouri, 9 p.m (SEC Network)

Friday's games
Quarterfinals

Georgia-LSU winner vs. No. 1 Florida, noon (ESPNU)
Game 4 Winner vs. No. 4 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Arkansas-Vanderbilt vs. No. 2 Kentucky, 6:30 p.m. (SEC Network/ESPNU)
Game 6 Winner vs. No. 3 Ole Miss, 9 p.m. (SEC Network/ESPNU)

Saturday's games
Semifinals

First two quarterfinal winners, noon (ABC)
Second two quarterfinal winners, 2:30 p.m. (ABC)

Sunday's game
Championship

Semifinal winners, noon, (ABC)

3 Comments on this post:

By: wiseguy1 on 3/11/13 at 7:45

really is a pretty agreeable seeding, considering early season play, and the better side of the bracket. A real test to demonstrate if they really have improved during the course of the season. A good run in the tournament might get them into NIT.

By: 4gold on 3/12/13 at 6:38

VU only improved when they played the bottom half of the standings. Go find a guard that can shoot, a forward that can dribble drive and a center that can score. Go watch the baseball team and forget this season ever happened.

I just want UK to lose the first game so I can sit back and watch the NCAA find an excuse to put them in the tournament anyway. Calapari gets #1 recruiting class and that is all he can do with it? #1 shoe salesman and no coach at all.

Go Dores, Preds, Titans! Go Nashville a great place to live!

By: courier37027 on 3/12/13 at 1:42

Kentucky knocked off Florida on UK Senior night. Given Calipari"s one-and-done recruiting, I was surprised to learn the 'Cats had seniors on team.