UK notes: Vandy looks to step it up versus Cats

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 9, 2012 

NASHVILLE — Vanderbilt, which has lost four home games this season, will need a higher level of play to beat No. 1 Kentucky, two Commodores players said Thursday.

When asked if Vandy needed a better performance to win on Saturday, leading scorer John Jenkins said, "At times, it's been there. And it hasn't been there.

"Being consistent is going to be big."

Teammate Festus Ezeli suggested Vandy is capable of summoning a higher level of play.

"I think so," he said. "I think we're going to pick it up to another level."

Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings had a pointed response to the thought of looking forward to facing Kentucky.

"I don't know if you ever look forward to playing a team as good as they are," he said. "But we're here."

Fans and players will be excited, he said.

"I'll act like I'm excited if that makes everyone feel better," Stallings said. "But we have a tall challenge."

Ezeli suggested a sellout crowd, which figures to be liberally sprinkled with UK fans, will help the Commodores.

"They certainly do a good job getting extra excited," he said. "It's been an advantage in the past. So I expect it to bring some lift to us."

GameDay presence

Stallings welcomed the presence of ESPN's GameDay. He said Vandy was "honored" to have ESPN stage its show here.

But Stallings cautioned against the perception that GameDay marked Vandy's arrival as a national power.

"I don't think this is a signal we are at an end or a destination," he said. "This is just a little part of the process."

To note the fleeting nature of success, Stallings turned to David Climer, a columnist for The Tennessean.

"Not too many years ago, he was asking me whether I deserved to keep my job," Stallings said with a smile.

Kentucky prestige

Jenkins paid homage to Kentucky's status as a marquee program.

"They are a prestigious team," he said. "We all know that. The name Kentucky means a lot. Not just in the SEC, but around college basketball in general."

Ezeli noted how Saturday's game had been on the minds of reporters who cover Vandy.

"You guys keep asking about it," he said. "You've been asking about it for weeks. So, yeah, it's nice to be able to talk about it."

Dribble-drive debunked?

Stallings suggested that the hype about Calipari's dribble-drive offense was just that: hype.

"They don't run the dribble-drive motion (offense) very much," the Vandy coach said. "That's one of the big fallacies about Kentucky basketball. ... They run set plays about every time down. Every once in a while, they run a little dribble-drive. Two, three times a game."

Stallings concluded his digression by saying, "The dribble-drive is more a figment of people's imagination."

Versus No. 1

Vandy has an all-time record of 7-14 against No. 1 teams. That includes a 4-10 record against No. 1 Kentucky teams.

The Commodores have won four straight at home against No. 1 teams. Vandy's last home defeat against a No. 1 team: a 78-68 loss to Kentucky on March 6, 1978.

Big game

Jenkins agreed with the premise that Kentucky can all but close out the SEC race by winning at Vandy.

Ezeli noted what a victory can do for Vandy.

"It'd be great, especially for our confidence and our swagger going into March," he said.

Big performance

Jenkins scored 32 points against UK here last season. He recoiled from the suggestion that he enjoyed "open looks" against the Cats.

"I didn't get any open looks, I don't think," he said. "Maybe a couple. But not too many."

When a reporter suggested the game here last season served as a coming-out party for Jenkins, Ezeli looked puzzled.

"I feel he'd been doing this for a while," the Vandy big man said. "I think everybody already knew about him before that."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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