NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Since Jerry Stackhouse began coaching the Commodores in 2019, he has seen his team defeated 28 times (out of 42 total losses) by an average margin of 6.7 points.
And in four total matchups with No. 18 Kentucky, whom the Dores face at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Memorial Gymnasium, Stackhouse has witnessed four setbacks by an average margin of 7.5 points.
Playing in so many tightly-contested affairs over the last 2+ seasons allows the veteran coach to be confident those experiences will pay dividends in the long run – and sooner rather than later.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games that hadn’t gone our way, but I think the maturation of our younger players that have been in our system and understand what we’re trying to do is hopefully helping us get over the hump and helping us get some separation,” the third-year Vandy head coach said Tuesday. “We cut down those live ball turnovers, take care of things that we can control like going to the line and knocking down our shots and continuing to be stingy on defense, continuing to share it offensively, and we feel like we’re going to be on the positive side of those nights more times than not.”
Vanderbilt (9-5, 1-1 SEC) is looking to rebound from another one of those close losses – a 72-70 result Saturday at home against South Carolina – and hoping to beat Kentucky for the first time since Feb. 27, 2016. The Commodores uncharacteristically turned the ball over 19 times against the Gamecocks and missed 10 free throws – yet still had a chance to win or force overtime at the end of regulation with the game’s final possession.
Vandy’s five defeats this season have now been an average margin of just eight points as it continues to try to bust down the door to more consistent, winning basketball.
“It was kind of an outlier game for us,” Stackhouse said. “We came in with a good game plan, I thought, to take away their 3. I thought we did a good job of that – they just scored at a rate in the 2-point area that nobody has scored on us all year.”
No. 18 Kentucky (12-3, 2-1 SEC) beat Georgia 92-77 on Saturday, a victory in which Oscar Tshiebwe collected 17 rebounds and TyTy Washington dished out 17 assists. Tshiebwe is averaging 16.1 points and 15.2 rebounds per game while Washington is scoring 13.6 points and 4.2 assists per contest.
The Wildcats have lost to No. 8 Duke, at Notre Dame and at No. 12 Louisiana State.
“You just have to put a body on (Tshiebwe) at all times,” Vanderbilt junior guard Jordan Wright said of the Wildcats. “I think (Quentin Millora-Brown) is really good at boxing out, but we have to send another guy to make sure Q is there. (Tshiebwe) gets his hands on everything. If he doesn’t get the rebound he’ll get a tip out.
“So making sure we have a body on him at all times and knowing where he is on the floor and just coming with a mentality of being aggressive, not just letting him make the first contact. We got to initiate that contact and hit first.”
Tuesday’s game will be televised live by ESPN.
• Pippen now ranks 22nd nationally with 89 free throws attempts, 29th with 65 free throws made and second in the SEC in scoring (18.3 points per game).
• The Commodores rank 23rd nationally in turnovers forced per game 16.9, 28th in turnover margin 39, 42nd in scoring defense (62.4 points per game allowed) and 47th in free throws made (217).
• Vanderbilt is 47-150 all-time against Kentucky and 23-49 at home against the Wildcats. The Commodores have lost 10 straight in the series.
• Vandy’s last win against a ranked opponent was Feb. 5, 2020, over No. 18 LSU.
• The Commodores have forced 14 turnovers or more in 10 games this season.
• Trey Thomas has now played in 39 straight games for the Commodores.
• Wright has started 29 straight games for Vanderbilt.