Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Big-Blue beatdown turns thoughts to the future

Ah, nothing has the healing powers of a win over Kentucky. Now Tennessee's Valentine's Day massacre feels like just a little bump in a six game stretch during which the Commodores have won five games.

And the 77-64 win makes it four straight over the Cats in Memorial, plus six wins against them in the last eight games.

The freshman Lance Goulbourne said the old gym was shaking. He’s going to help keep it that way. The kid scored 17 points in 22 minutes, including three treys and a stupendous dunk attempt — all with a hurt groin.

Throw in Jeffery Taylor, who had five offensive rebounds and 14 points, and we’ve got two long, athletic slashing wing men who can keep us from being the plodding thinking-man’s Dores of years gone by.

Of course, Jeff played some defense, too, helping hold Jodie Meeks to 26 points.

Let’s face it: Meeks is the real deal. When the opposing coach designs his whole game plan around you and shadows you with tall and quick defenders whose only mission is to deny you the ball and keep you from even attempting a shot and you still score 26 points, then you’re a big-time stud.

Coach Stallings was right to mention Patrick Patterson’s absence early in his post-game press conference. That certainly contributed to Vanderbilt’s victory.

Other highlights:
• Dolla Beal had a nice night with 17 points including a perfect 10 from the line and a very big driving bucket in the second half when the Cats seemed to be starting a little run.
• AJ got a little nasty out there. He’s not the most athletic guy in the world, but he seemed to enjoy banging around inside and he picked up tough rebounds and buckets and went to the line nine times, making seven of them. He finished with 15 points and eight boards. His technical was kind of weak, though — he was just trying to protect his chest region and couldn't help that he's so tall his elbow lined up near the other guy's head.
• Steve Tchiengang blocked two Jodie Meeks shots in the paint in a matter of seconds. Guys like him and Goulbourne are going to make it tough for guys like George Drake and Darshawn McClellan to maintain their minutes.

Stallings is doing a fine job with this team. Remember that three weeks ago we were 1-5 in the conference — with the seventh-youngest team in the nation out of more than 300 teams — and now we’re 5-6. If we can win our remaining home games (South Carolina on Feb. 28 and Arkansas on March 8), beat Georgia in Athens (Feb. 25) and steal one out of two more on the road (Florida on Saturday and LSU on March 4) then we’ll finish with a winning conference record. We’d probably still need to win one or maybe two in the tournament to get an NCAA bid, but you never know.

But the big thing to look forward to is next season, when we get everybody back from this team, plus super scorer John Jenkins, who rang up 60 points the other night, and the versatile sophomore Andre Walker, who’s taking a redshirt this season because of injury.

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