Cats in search of second SEC road win

Vanderbilt's John Jenkins, left, and the Commodores will host Kentucky's Brandon Knight and the Wildcats Saturday in Nashville.
Vanderbilt's John Jenkins, left, and the Commodores will host Kentucky's Brandon Knight and the Wildcats Saturday in Nashville.

NASHVILLE — Although Kentucky has won only one of five Southeastern Conference road games, DeAndre Liggins approaches Saturday's game at Vanderbilt in a positive frame of mind.

"I've got a good feeling we're going to come out and execute well, play great defense and be tough on the road this time," he said Thursday.

Good practices this week gave Liggins a good feeling.

But there's reason to wonder. There's what Liggins' called the "weird" configuration of Memorial Gym, which has a floor that sits above the first few rows of seats. And it's the only college basketball venue in the country with the benches behind the end lines.

UK has won at Vandy only three times in the last nine seasons. Vandy is 13-1 in Memorial Gym this season.

But that one loss can fuel UK optimism. It came against Arkansas on a Saturday, two days after Vandy won at Mississippi State on Jan. 27.

Now again, the Commodores face the prospect of a second game in three days. To be precise, tipoff against Kentucky comes about 38 hours after Vandy outlasted Alabama here.

"I just told them after the game last night, you can be tired at 3 p.m. Saturday," Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings said Friday.

Point guard Brad Tinsley acknowledged how "pretty draining" it was subduing Western Division-leading Alabama 81-77 here Thursday night.

"We know we have to be mentally tough," Tinsley said. "Take care of our bodies today and tomorrow. Mental toughness comes into play a lot. We've been through it before."

And how did that go?

"Well, we lost that game," Tinsley said with a wry smile. "Yeah, definitely our bodies will be tired."

Two days after winning at Mississippi State, Vandy lost 89-78 to Arkansas. Since Vandy's other five losses this season involved three overtime games, plus two-point and three-point margins, fatigue surely was a factor.

"You just have to battle through it," Tinsley said. "I think adrenaline will kick in and that 'tiredness' won't play a factor."

Stallings, who suggested the SEC talk about spreading the Thursday-Saturday scheduling component throughout the conference (Kentucky is one of four league teams with no two-games-in-three-days stretches this season), dismissed a reporter's attempt to ease any concern.

When asked if playing an inspiring opponent like Kentucky might help refuel his players, Stallings said, "Oh, I wish we were playing a Division-4 school. I think that's what would help.

"But we're playing Kentucky. Unfortunately, they're awfully good."

The Vandy coach saw his team at a disadvantage because UK last played on Tuesday.

When asked if the advantage lay in rest time or preparation time, Stallings said, "Both."

The setting might be a disadvantage for Kentucky. Freshman Terrence Jones fretted about not being able to hear Coach John Calipari whenever the action is on the half of the court farthest from the UK bench.

"I don't like that," Jones said. "... He tells us what to do. Sometimes we need that."

Tinsley downplayed the bench location as a "little advantage." But he noted his own struggle to adapt. "I definitely needed the coach's guidance the first couple of games here," he said.

Stallings had a ready response when asked if Kentucky's freshmen might struggle.

"Didn't bother (UK's freshmen) last year," he said. " ... I don't anticipate it will be much of a problem for them. I hope it is."

Calipari made light of the bench location affecting his freshmen.

"I don't think they listen to me much on the road, so I don't think it matters," he said. "But I do know they're going to need to listen to each other. Maybe it'll help them."

Calipari had been trying to foster better on-court communication all season. Against Tennessee on Tuesday, the Cats hit on a one-for-all groove. "They did it together," said the UK coach, noting how much easier the game can be when played with collective effort.

Now Kentucky tests that newfound esprit de corps on one of the SEC's most difficult venues for visiting teams.

"Another chance for us to make a statement," Calipari said. "We're not what you think we are."

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