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January 29, 2011

Arkansas shocks Vandy at home

NASHVILLE, Tenn.-Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said he didn't have any answers.



After reading the stat sheet from Saturday's 89-78 home loss to Arkansas, it's likely he has plenty of questions.

Among them:

How did the Commodores let Michael Sanchez, a man who averaged 2.1 points a game coming in, light them up for 20?

How did VU, which has been a rock-solid defensive team most of the year, couldn't stop Rotnei Clarke from scoring 36 points with a man-to-man, or a zone, or even with a box-and-one with Jeffery Taylor, who was voted the Southeastern Conference's preseason defensive player of the year, chasing him?

Or get badly beaten on the backboards by a team that came in dead-last in Southeastern Conference in rebounding margin-by a lot.

Or allow a team that ranked 179th in America in field goal percentage hit a season-high 57.4 percent from the field?

And most of all, how do you explain that your team, undefeated in 11 tries at home and ranked 19th in America, lose to a team that hadn't won on the road all season?

To a team that lost by 32 at Florida just a week ago.

To a team that lost by 33 at Texas earlier in the month.

To a team that couldn't even beat lowly LSU on its home floor.

To a team the Commodores beat 89-72 on the road last year in a game that wasn't ever close.

Stallings didn't know how it happened, or even how to describe it.

"It was disappointing, the lack of-I don't even know what I want to call it," he said. "The lack of something that we didn't put forth to-to try to get better, to try to get those stopped."

"I'm not obviously far enough inside their brains. If I had been, we wouldn't have played as poorly as we did," he added later.

But the one thing he knew is that he didn't like how things looked early.

"[I knew] at tipoff," he said.

Ironically, the opening tip was one of the few areas of the game that Vanderbilt won on Saturday evening. That 'momentum," if you can call it that, helped them hold a lead six minutes into the game, though the margin never got higher.

From there, Clarke and Sanchez took over. By halftime, the Razorbacks held a seven-point lead, and led by as much as 11 at one point.

Clarke had 16 at the break, and Sanchez, 12, as Arkansas shot 53.3 percent, and crushed VU by a 17-8 margin on the backboards.

Two things worked for Vandy in the half: Festus Ezeli (12 first-half points) and foul shooting (a perfect 15-for-15).

But Ezeli got just six in the second half, and although John Jenkins caught fire (he finished with 24 points on 6-of-10 shooting, with 15 coming after halftime), Arkansas kept hitting shot after shot, never allowing VU closer than eight from the 16-minute mark on.

"Their penetration caused us to have to slide over and get out of position, and then, they took advantage of it," Stallings said.

Stallings said he'd never seen anything on film that indicated the Razorbacks were capable of this sort of breakout performance.

"But I haven't seen anyone who guarded them as well as we did," he added sarcastically.

"I don't know if it was their offense, or our bad defense, but they were definitely hitting shots either way," Vandy's Jenkins said. "It was kind of crazy, actually. They were hitting everything.

"We tried to get stops, but they just kept on pounding it inside and getting fouls and converting their free throws."

The one thing you could potentially see coming was the performance from Clarke, who dropped 51 on Alcorn State a year ago.

Still, the junior came into this one scoring just 12.5 a game this season, and despite shooting just 40.8 percent from the field this season, he hit 12-of-16 on Saturday.

"I've seen him in AAU [ball] do that before, so it wasn't surprising to me," Jenkins said.

The only team highlight for the Commodores was a 25-of-26 performance from the foul line that kept this one from being a total blowout.

Taylor added 14 points for VU, and Rod Odom, who connected on back-to-back 3s late in the second half as the 'Dores made a small run, finished with 12.

Next up for VU: a trip to Florida on Tuesday. The Gators dropped a game on Saturday to Mississippi State, but at 5-2 in the conference, remain a game-and-a-half ahead of VU.

Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. Central.


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