When the Vanderbilt men’s basketball team steps onto the court Saturday to play No. 18 Kentucky, it will be less than 40 hours since they last stepped off it.
Following an emotional 81-77 home victory over Alabama on Thursday night, the Commodores have to quickly turn around and host the well-rested Wildcats at noon in a game that will be nationally televised on CBS.
“I told them after the game [Thursday] night you can be tired at 3 o’clock on Saturday,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “Then they’ll have 48 hours to rest before practice on Monday. We can’t worry about fatigue. It is scheduled when it is scheduled. We have to be ready to play [Saturday] at noon and we’ll be ready.
“I wish we were playing a Division IV school — I think that is what would help. But we are playing Kentucky. Unfortunately, they are awfully good so you have to manage. You have to do what you have to do and you have to play with the same emotion, the same intensity and it doesn’t make a difference who is coming in here. The bottom line is it is a home game. It is a game we need to win, and it is a game that is very important to us.”
Kentucky (17-6, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) hasn’t played since a win over Tennessee on Tuesday.
While the Wildcats are a perfect 11-0 at Rupp Arena, they are just 3-5 on the road, including a 1-4 in the SEC. Vanderbilt (17-6, 5-4) is 13-1 at home and has won two straight at Memorial Gymnasium since losing to Arkansas on Jan. 29.
“Historically, our teams have always played better on the road because they were always supposed to win every game on the road. So when they went on the road, they loosened up a little bit and they played,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said earlier this week. “With this team, part of it is that we haven’t played together.”
The Wildcats are still full of talent. A year after losing most of a star-studded cast that included the top NBA draft pick John Wall, another slew of freshmen have filled the holes.
Terrence Jones averages 17.6 points and a league-high 9.0 rebounds and fellow freshman Brandon Knight averages 17.3 points.
But Kentucky has balance throughout the lineup as it ranks second in the league to Vanderbilt in both scoring offense (76.9 ppg) and field goal percentage (45.9 percent). The Wildcats lead the SEC in 3-point field goal percentage (40.4 percent).
“They are very good, very dangerous and very complete,” Stallings said of Kentucky’s five freshmen. “They get great balance amongst all their players. I think their veterans are overlooked. I think [DeAndre] Liggins might the best defender in this league and [Darius] Miller is a very good player. [Josh] Harrellson has played great for them so they’ve got not only really, really outstanding freshmen but they have really good returners that are contributing heavily to their success.”
• Stallings said he thought about putting forward Andre Walker in Thursday night’s game to inbounds the ball with 6.3 seconds left. Instead, he decided not to and the Commodores were able to get the ball into Jenkins, who was fouled and made two big free throws to clinch the win.
Walker was dressed out for the first time since spraining his ankle in late December. He missed his 11th straight game and Stallings said he doesn’t expect Walker to play against Kentucky.