In what could have been the worst scenario for a first game in the SEC Tournament, the Kentucky Wildcats face a Vanderbilt team that has won five of six games on basically their home court. Kentucky is 2-0 versus Vandy this year, but that was by a combined six points. The Wildcats are in a for a fight and John Calipari knows it:
While this game is in Vanderbilt’s home town, it will be far from a true home game for the Commodore. There will be plenty of blue in the building and a good chunk of that will be from Clarksville, where Alex Poythress is from. It’s obvious that Kentucky needs Poythress to be in “beast mode” from here on out and you may want to keep track of the rebounds. UK is 5-0 when Poythress pulls down nine rebounds. Poythress’s high school coach has the inside info that Poythress is more than ready to play:
“I think it has a very special meaning for him,” Northeast coach Al Cooper said. “He’s ready to play. He’s ready to go. I know that for a fact.”
That must be music to UK fans’ ears. Poythress is wrapping up a rookie season in which he showed flashes of stardom — which always vanished just as quickly — and the team’s ebbs and flows have largely gone as he has. In the Cats’ 21 wins, he averaged 13.2 points and 7.1 rebounds. In 10 losses, he averaged 8.3 points and 4.6 rebounds.
Hoping to pull out the “beast” version of Poythress coach John Calipari often references, Cooper texted his former pupil a simple directive for this week: “Be the baddest man in the tournament.” He said the soft-spoken Poythress responded predictably: “Yes, sir.”
As I said earlier, expect a tough game. Kevin Stallings will have his team ready to play Kentucky tonight. While he says his team is not scared of UK, he certainly understands and respects UK’s role in the SEC and why UK is always that “big game”.
The fans likely will be into the game again but it will be Kentucky fans packing Bridgestone Arena to see if the Cats can beat Vanderbilt for a third time this season. Of course, last year UK fans dominated attendance in New Orleans when Vanderbilt stunned UK in the SEC title game before the Cats went on to win the NCAA title.
“If there are 20,000 Kentucky fans, we have played in front of 24,000 (in Rupp Arena),” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “The atmosphere will not bother us. Kentucky’s players will. We are not going to worry about the fans. Our guys will compete. They are not afraid. I think we are playing our best basketball of the season.
“We just have to play to win. I don’t think Kentucky has to beat us to get in the (NCAA) tourney. I think personally they are a tourney team. But it will be a fun game.”
Stallings said perhaps his players don’t even understand whey Kentucky is always the team to beat.
“Kentucky has earned the right to everybody’s rival. I am jealous of that. They get everybody’s best shot because their program has been better,” Stallings said. “Everybody wants to beat Kentucky.”