The Vanderbilt men’s basketball team wants to have full control on Wednesday night.
Georgia might not let that happen. More specifically Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins might not let that happen.
The junior duo averages 32 points a game for the 24th-ranked Bulldogs, who have won nine straight and upset then-No. 10 Kentucky in a Southeastern Conference opener on Saturday. They are also a challenge physically. Leslie, a 6-foot-4 guard, is known for his high-flying dunks, and Thompkins’ 6-10, 245-pound frame makes him a beast down low.
“They are pretty athletic,” Vanderbilt forward Lance Goulbourne said. “Travis Leslie is obviously a highlight reel. People know who he is. Trey Thompkins is a real good player. He was the preseason SEC player of the year. We are just looking forward to a challenge, getting back on the winning track and doing our best and coming out fighting.”
Vanderbilt (11-3, 0-1 SEC) will try to bounce back from a tough loss when it hosts Georgia (12-2, 1-0) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Memorial Gym. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.
The Commodores had won four straight and nine of their last 10 before they blew a 14-point second-half lead on the road to South Carolina on Saturday, eventually losing 83-75 in overtime.
“It is a tough 16 games. It is just a tough, tough league,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “The strongest and the toughest survive it and that is what you have to be. You have to be the tough guys to survive. You can’t let one loss turn into two.”
Vanderbilt had a hard time containing South Carolina guard Bruce Ellington (22 points, with six 3-pointers) and forward Sam Muldrow (16 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks). The task will be tougher against Georgia and Leslie (18.1 points per game) and Thompkins (13.9 ppg), both of whom were selected to the preseason All-SEC First Team.
Their athleticism makes them tough to stop. Just ask Kentucky. The Wildcats allowed Thompkins to score 25 points and Leslie to add 15.
Goulbourne, who said he will guard Thompkins and teammate Jeffery Taylor will defend Leslie, says slowing down Georgia starts with getting them out of their comfort zone and taking control on offense.
“We like to get up and down. I don’t think Georgia is as fast-paced as we are, they might slow the tempo a little bit. But we will see how it goes,” Goulbourne said. “We want them to play in our hands so we want them to play our game. If the game is fast-paced, I think it is better suited for us.”
Goulbourne knows a thing or too about athleticism. He displayed plenty of it against South Carolina when he grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds.
The 6-foot-8 junior forward leads the team with 7.2 rebounds a game and cleared the glass on Saturday, out-jumping bigger players to scoop up 11 defensive rebounds.
“I am doing my best, man, to help the team in whatever way possible,” Goulbourne said. “That was a good game for me. Hopefully I can continue that. It just happened. It wasn’t a matchup thing. I just went after the ball to try to secure it for our team so we could get offensive rebounds so we can get extra shots. It has nothing to do with matchups. I feel like I can attack the boards with anybody, really. I just have to use my ability.”
And his hands will attempt to keep Georgia and its athletic threats under wraps.
• Not to be forgotten in Georgia’s lineup is junior Gerald Robinson, a MLK grad and Tennessee State transfer. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound forward is averaging 12.9 points a game — behind only Thompkins and Leslie. He also has a team-high 63 assists.
Robinson is in his first season with the Bulldogs after he sat out last year in compliance with NCAA transfer rules. In two years at Tennessee State, he averaged 15.2 and 17.8 points, the latter being a team-high during the 2008-09 season. He left shortly after John Cooper was hired as head coach at TSU in the spring of 2009.
“What he has done he has gone into a situation where he is being utilized by his coaches properly. He has been put in a good system for him,” Stallings said. “He has really outstanding players around him so he does not have to be the only guy. He is a good player in a good situation. Those two factors usually make for a good result and that is what he is getting and that is what they are getting right now.”
• Vanderbilt starting forward Andre Walker did not practice on Tuesday and is expected to miss his third straight game due to an ankle sprain he suffered nearly two weeks ago. Walker has played in just one game since Dec. 1. He sat out four due to mononucleosis and the junior has played in just eight games this year.
Steve Tchiengang, however, should play against Georgia. The 6-foot-7 forward injured his Achilles tendon against South Carolina but practiced on Tuesday.