Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tournament time

Now the real fun begins.

After matching its best regular season ever with 25 wins, Vanderbilt (25-6, 10-6 Southeastern Conference) opens its postseason Thursday in Atlanta at the SEC tournament against Auburn.

“This is obviously the exciting time of year,” said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings.

Vanderbilt is a lock for March Madness, but a strong performance in the SEC tournament is important so the Commodores can improve their seeding.

The Commodores, after rolling through February undefeated, lost two of their last three regular season games, with those coming at Arkansas and then in the season closer at Alabama on March 8. Kentucky took the No. 2 seed in the SEC East and earned a first-round bye in the SEC tournament.

Freshman A.J. Ogilvy, while disappointed, is looking to the future rather than the past.

“Tournament play is what it’s all about,” Ogilvy said. “We know that we can get it done in the tournament.”

The losses were sandwiched around a thrilling overtime win over Mississippi State at Memorial Gym on March 5, where senior Shan Foster scored a career-high 42 points and hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left. The 86-85 win capped a 19-0 record at Memorial Gym for the season.

Away from Memorial Gym has been a different story. Vanderbilt finished 4-6 in true road games for the season, 2-6 in SEC road games. All four of Vanderbilt’s road wins came against teams that wound up with losing records.

That leads some to question Vanderbilt’s ability to play good basketball outside of Nashville.

“I don’t know that we’ve been that bad outside of our own gym,” Stallings said. “I think that gets distorted because we were undefeated inside of it.”

As the No. 3 seed out of the SEC East, Vanderbilt draws Auburn (14-15, 4-12 SEC), who finished in last place in the SEC West. The Commodores defeated Auburn in a closely contested game at Memorial Gym on Feb. 2, 78-71, in their only match-up this season.

“We had a tough game against Auburn the first time,” Stallings said. “As everybody knows, they present match-up problems because of their size and quickness.”

Auburn coach Jeff Lebo and his squad won’t be intimidated against Vanderbilt in Atlanta.

“I think we go in with a little bit of confidence,” Lebo said. “At least we don’t have to play them at their place.”

Don’t count on Ogilvy and his teammates minding not playing in the friendly confines of Memorial Gym, though.

“We know that we’re not playing at home, but we’re not playing at anyone else’s home either,” Ogilvy said. “We know that although we’ve had some trouble on the road we’re confident that we’ll be able to get it done.”

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