Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Vandy doing just dandy with hearty 7-man band
Vanderbilt guard Kyle Fuller (11) plays against Mississippi State in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. Vanderbilt won 55-49. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Arkansas will try to wear out Vanderbilt’s iron men when the Razorbacks play the Commodores at 3 p.m. today in Memorial Gymnasium.
“We want to make depth an issue,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “We’ve got to get out and make them work on both ends. I want us to be in attack mode for 40 minutes.”
The Commodores’ depth issue is that they don’t have any.
Vanderbilt, with seven scholarship players, has the top three players in terms of minutes in SEC games with junior guard Dai-Jon Parker (39.6), senior guard Kyle Fuller (38.7) and senior forward Rod Odom (37.2).
“I didn’t get to play as much as I wanted in my first three years, so I think it’s great to be out there this much now,”Fuller said earlier this season. “You’re not going to see me motioning to the bench and asking to come out of the game.”
Commodores Coach Kevin Stallings said Parker, Fuller and Odom are holding up well physically.
“They’re three guys that are really, really well-conditioned athletes,” Stallings said. “So playing the big minutes, I don’t think, affects them as much as it would other types of guys.”
The Commodores (13-8, 5-4) have won four consecutive games, despite a depleted roster, against Texas A&M,Georgia, Mississippi State and Tennessee.
“They may only have seven scholarship players, but those seven are pretty good,” Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said. “They’ve done a wonderful job of playing a style that those guys can play 35-plus minutes. They’re just maxing out.”
The Commodores have held opponents to an average of 54.5 points during their winning streak, allowing six fast-break points in that span.
“I think there has been complete buy-in on their part in terms of what we as a coaching staff want,” Stallings said. “Literally the day before the Tennessee game I had to stop practice because I felt like they were going too hard, and I can count on one finger the number of times I have felt like that in 30 years of coaching.
“These guys go out there and try to give us what we ask for, and then when the game comes they play with great passion, energy and effort. Sometimes that translates into wins, and that’s what’s happening right now.”
Stallings has a 290-184 record in his 15th season at Vanderbilt with six NCAA Tournament appearances the previous 10 years.
“Kevin is one of the best coaches the country, and they’re well prepared,” Kennedy said. “They don’t beat themselves. That’s probably why they went to Vanderbilt, because they’re smart kids, and Kevin continues to do a wonderful job getting the most out of what he’s got.”
Vanderbilt lost three players last summer when guard Kedren Johnson was suspended for the season for violating university rules, forward Sheldon Jeter transferred to Pittsburgh and guard Kevin Bright decided to play professionally in Germany.
In December junior Josh Henderson suffered a season-ending knee injury, then in January guard Eric McClellan - averaging 14.3 points - was dismissed from Vanderbilt for violating university rules.
The Commodores started 1-4 in SEC play after losing McCellan.
“It was sort of a lightning bolt, and we all probably took a little bit more time than we wanted to figuring out how we were going to deal with it, how we could best operate under the new conditions,” Stallings said. “But since then I think we’ve handled it pretty well and our guys are coming to an understanding of how we have to play to win.”
Stallings said he believes the Commodores are close to playing at their full potential.
“You never know what your ceiling is coming into a season, but I think these guys are pushing pretty hard and getting pretty close in the way that they’re playing,” Stallings said. “That makes me happy for them and proud of them.”
RECORDS Arkansas 14-8, 3-6 SEC;
Vanderbilt 13-8, 5-4 SERIES Arkansas leads 18-11 RADIO Razorback Sports Network TELEVISION SEC TV on KATV, Channel 7, in Little Rock; KHOG/KHBS, Channels 40/29, in Fayetteville and Fort Smith and KAIT, Channel 8, in Jonesboro.
Sports, Pages 19 on 02/08/2014