UK Basketball: Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said Wildcats bring buzz on the road in SEC
Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin (10), shooting against Eastern Michigan last week, said that having played road games at Notre Dame and Louisville will help prepare the Wildcats for road games in the Southeastern Conference. UK opens up SEC play tonight at Vanderbilt. (Clay Jackson / January 10, 2013)
“They dominated the league forever. They face that buzz where they go,” Stallings said when asked about the atmosphere in Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym for tonight’s Southeastern Conference opener against Kentucky. “They are the hunted.”
Stallings noted that Kentucky has won more SEC championships than every other league member combined.
“When you are dominant like that, of course people get excited to beat you,” he said. “They face that wherever they go. Our fans love it when Kentucky comes to town. They have a great program and great tradition, and I think all of us aspire to have some of the success they have had. Not only coaches and players, but fans alike. That is what creates a different atmosphere when they come to town.
“It is always a great challenge to play them and beat them. It is a great way for us to start the conference season. If you can win a game like that it can catapult you forward.”
Stallings mistakenly though Kentucky guard Julius Mays played against Vanderbilt last year — Mays transferred to UK from Wright State this season. But Mays knows this could be a difficult game.
“It’s good for school to be back in and for us to start to play on a more consistent basis. Instead of having to practice against each other and beating up on each other, we can do it on another team,” Mays said. “I’ve never played there, but I’ve watched it on TV, and I expect it to be a big crowd and it to be loud.”
Stallings said Vanderbilt’s win over Kentucky in last year’s SEC tournament final was “very meaningful,” and the Commodores will toast that feat before tonight’s game.
“But it takes great performances like that to beat teams with great talent, and that is the kind of performance we will need again. They have great talent. It’s young talent, but last year’s team was young talent, and they won the national championship,” he said.
Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin said he believes the non-conference schedule that include road losses at Notre Dame and Louisville along with a neutral-court loss to current No. 1 Duke has the Cats ready for SEC play.
“The losses that we took on the road were tough ones. But we grew from them each time. I think that it has been able to help us out a lot,” Goodwin said. “We were a lot more competitive against Louisville then we were against Notre Dame and that just came from us doing this coach Cal (Calipari) stuff. Hopefully we can continue to do what we’ve been doing.”
Stallings is worried about UK’s offensive rebounding prowess with Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, a Tennessee native who picked Kentucky over Vanderbilt.
“Sometimes is seems like their best offense is a missed shot. They just go tip it in or dunk it,” Stallings said. “Sometimes they penetrate inside and then all heck breaks loose on the backboard.”
Stallings says Poythress is a “long, athletic presence” that Vanderbilt must contend with — along with his teammates.
“We have to play good team defense and not get broken down on assignments to keep them off the boards,” he said.
Cauley-Stein was the least heralded of UK’s four freshmen but not only has worked his way into the starting lineup along with the other three freshmen — Goodwin, Poythress and Noel — but he’s now being projected as a lottery pick in some NBA mock drafts.
“He’s just getting more confident. Again, he’s starting to perform on the basketball court and he knows now he can do it,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “See, all the talk and all the other stuff, it’s not about that. It’s about going on that court and performing and knowing I can do this if I choose to do it and being disciplined enough to come out — and he does sub himself. We’ve got some other guys who don’t want to sub themselves. They think staying on the court is what it’s about when it’s not. He’s done great.”
Calipari said playing Cauley-Stein and Noel together shifts Poythress from power forward to small forward and means the Cats should be “a great rebounding team” with that size on the court.
“You’ve got to make effort. The whole thing, it’s not talent, it’s an effort level. If you have talent and they give you a great effort, more of an effort than the other team like we did last year, you win most of the games,” he said. “If you have a talented team that doesn’t give you effort you’re going to get beat.
“That’s just how it is. The less talented team will outwork the more talented team, and they’re going to win. That was the first thing we had to convince these guys of.
“The second part of it was the mental discipline you need to sustain 40 minutes. You can’t play three or four minutes then say, ‘OK, now I’m just going to do what want to do,’ which is what we had done throughout (the season).
“Then the last part of it is how bad they need each other. I mean, I think they’re starting to understand it, but I’m not sure they’re quite there yet.”