Commodores, Cats Meet Again

Vandy faces Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament

by Chad Bishop

TAMPA, Fla. — Why hello again, Kentucky.

The Commodores and Wildcats will meet for a third time this season thanks to Vanderbilt’s 82-76 win over Alabama on Thursday in the second round of the SEC Tournament. Now Vandy and Kentucky square off at 7:30 p.m. CT Friday in the event’s quarterfinals.

I got two suits down and three to go,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said, alluding to his team’s challenges of going for a third win out of possibly five games. “That’s the thought process. I told all the coaches, ‘Don’t get on the plane if you don’t bring five suits.’ I’m pretty sure they probably didn’t bring five suits, but hopefully they brought five shirt and ties.”

Stackhouse will be wearing a third different suit in as many nights Friday when he watches his team take the floor against a recent nemesis.

Vanderbilt has not defeated Kentucky since Feb. 27, 2016, a string of 12 straight defeats. Five of the last eight, however, have been decided by nine points or less – including the 77-70 win by the Wildcats on Feb. 2 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Vandy lost by a combined seven points in two meetings in 2021.

We’ve been on the wrong end of that rivalry for a while,” Stackhouse said Feb. 2, “but I think we’re closing the gap.”

The Commodores have met Kentucky nine previous times at the SEC Tournament, but not since the 2013 event when they won 64-48. The year prior, en route to an SEC Tournament title, the Dores knocked off Kentucky 71-64.

They now have an opportunity to run that winning streak to three thanks to Thursday’s epic comeback that saw the Commodores erase a 15-point deficit in the second half against Alabama.

Vandy trailed 51-36 with a little less than 14 minutes to go before putting together one of the toughest and crucial stretch runs of its season. Rodney Chatman gave the Commodores the lead for good with a left-corner 3 at 71-68 as Vanderbilt outscored the Crimson Tide 14-7 over the final 3:19.

Chatman (12 points) was one of four Commodores in double figures. Scotty Pippen Jr. scored 26 (thanks to 15 made free throws), Jordan Wright had 13 points and 11 rebounds and Myles Stute made six triples for a cool 18 points.

Chatman scored 10 of his 12 points in the final 5:12 of the game.

It meant a lot,” said Chatman, who has missed much of the year due to injury, of his late contributions. “Before that I even airballed a shot, but (Pippen) told me, ‘Just keep shooting.’ I just trust my work I put in. (Pippen) found me in the corner and it was a big shot. It came off a ball screen and hit another 3 and it just felt good. Just trusting myself.

“I’ve been through a lot. I’ve persevered through a lot, so it’s nothing to me just to keep going. I created myself on my mentality, the perseverance just to push on for it.”

Pippen, Stackhouse, Wright, Quentin Millora-Brown and a number of other Commodores have never beaten Kentucky. But Pippen has always poured in some of his best performances when against the Wildcats.

The junior has averaged 21.5 points, 4.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds in six games against Kentucky. Pippen has scored 65 points to go along with nine assists in two games this season against the Wildcats.

“They’ve beaten us twice (this season),” Pippen said. “Haven’t beat them since I have been here, so a little bit of payback going into this game with a chip on our shoulder. A little bit of momentum we have, so it’s good to see them again and excited about it.”

Vanderbilt will be trying to win a third game in the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2017 when it went 3-1 that year. To reach that mark, though, it will have to conquer its toughest challenge yet as heavy underdogs.

But perhaps there is a little bit of Cinderella magic brewing in the Vandy locker room. The Commodores are, but far, the largest seed left in the eight-team field.

They may also have the largest growing sense of belief.

It’s March. These are games that we live for, games we grew up watching on TV,” Chatman said. “It’s the moment now, so I think we’re going to be ready for (Friday). We’re going to show up and perform on the court.

“Like (Pippen) said, (Kentucky) beat us twice, so it’s March. Anything can happen. As long as we believe and trust in ourselves, anything can happen.”

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.