GAME NOTES: The 10th-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores will try to continue their unlikely run through the SEC Tournament on Saturday afternoon, as they tangle with the third-seeded Ole Miss Rebels in the semifinal round at Bridgestone Arena.
The winner will advance to Sunday afternoon's championship game to face off with either Florida or Alabama.
Despite its rather pedestrian overall record (16-16), Vanderbilt is the SEC's hottest team, ripping off wins in six of its last seven games. After upsetting seventh-seeded Arkansas in the second round (75-72), the Commodores' unlikely journey through the SEC continued on Friday night with an outstanding 64-48 win over No. 2 seed Kentucky, possibly spoiling the Wildcats' NCAA Tournament chances in the process.
Ole Miss, which hasn't qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 2002, has stepped up to prove its skeptics wrong in recent weeks, as it has won five of its last six games to improve to 24-8 and further pad its bubble resume. After earning a double-bye into the quarterfinals of this event, the Rebels came away with a 64-62 win over Missouri on Friday night to advance.
In the only meeting between the two teams this season, Ole Miss went into Nashville on Jan. 15 and took down Vanderbilt, 89-79 in overtime. The Commodores still have a comfortable 74-40 advantage in the all-time series.
Vanderbilt, which defeated Kentucky in last season's SEC Tournament championship game, thoroughly dominated the Wildcats in Friday's upset victory, outshooting them from the field, 50 percent to 34.6 percent. Dai-Jon Parker led a balanced attack with 12 points to go along with six rebounds and two steals, Kevin Bright netted 11 points, while Kedren Johnson and Kyle Fuller poured in 10 points apiece. The Commodores are used to piecing together outstanding performances on the defensive end of the court, as they yield a mere 60.0 ppg to opponents, and while their offense isn't much to write home about (60.6 ppg), their scoring average has jumped up to 71.0 ppg over the last three games. Johnson is the top scoring threat with 13.5 ppg while also adding 3.6 apg, while Rod Odom is the only other double-digit scorer with 10.5 ppg.
Ole Miss was on the brink of elimination in its quarterfinal-round bout, as it found itself down by 13 points midway through the second half, but it climbed its way back into the game with a 10-1 run later in the stanza and eventually received the game-winning bucket from Derrick Millinghaus with 1.1 seconds remaining to capture the thrilling triumph. Sparking the comeback was Marshall Henderson, who had an underwhelming performance from 3-point range (4-of-12) but still finished with a game-high 27 points. Millinghaus netted 11 points off the bench, while Murphy Holloway was a difference-maker in the paint against a physical Missouri front line with nine points and 13 rebounds. The Rebels' success this season has come behind the strength of their offensive attack, which ranks sixth in the nation at 78.7 ppg. Henderson's field-goal percentage may not seem impressive (.382), but he is among the nation's leaders in 3-pointers (125), which has made him the SEC's top scorer (19.7 ppg). Holloway (14.5 ppg, 9.7 rpg) and Reginald Buckner (9.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.7 bpg) make up a formidable duo down low.
Despite lacking the talent of its SEC brethren, Vanderbilt is an extremely well-coached team under the tutelage of Kevin Stallings and has the defensive attack to slow down Ole Miss' shooters. Still, the Rebels are a team on a mission, which will more than likely put a halt to the Commodores' impressive run in this one.
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