Hogs embracing unique challenges of Memorial Gym

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Monday, March 4, 2019
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson talks with an official in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson talks with an official in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guard Mason Jones, prior to Monday, was unaware of the unique setup at Vanderbilt's Memorial Gym.

Team benches have been placed along the baselines of the elevated floor in Memorial Gym since the first game was played in the Commodores' old gym in December 1952, giving Vanderbilt a distinct homecourt advantage over the years.

While he wasn't up to date on the logistics of Vanderbilt's home arena, Jones said he has heard Memorial Gym can be a difficult place to play and win. Communication will be paramount on Wednesday, and Jones said he feels Mike Anderson is trusting players more and more to make decisions on their own.

"Vanderbilt can’t hear their players for the first half, but we can’t hear our coach," Jones added. "So as long as we keep communicating like we have the last couple of games we should be good."

Anderson, who's 2-1 at Vanderbilt with Arkansas, said the most important thing in regards to playing at Vanderbilt and handling that road atmosphere is player communication and having someone, preferably a guard, in charge who embodies what he wants and fully understands the gameplan.

The floor setup at Memorial is unusual for most players - Adrio Bailey is the lone player on the roster who's been to Vanderbilt - but at the end of the day, the floor is still 94 feet long, Anderson added.

"Being on the other end, it might work in (my players') favor because they don’t have to listen to me," he said laughing. "They like that part of it. I think through hand signals or ... I think you’ve got to trust the guys out there on the floor. They’ve played enough games now where they know what the game plan is, and now obviously they’ve got to go out and execute it.

"Whether it be Jalen, Desi, Keyshawn, Mason, Daniel or Adrio, I think they’ve got to go out there facilitating all that."

That edge, though, has been minimized in recent years since the NCAA mandated the coaching boxes be stretched down one sideline beginning in the 2015-16 season. Anderson said that has helped "a little bit."

When asked about the Memorial Gym setup in 2017, Kentucky coach John Calipari said being able to walk down the sideline has taken away some of the original homecourt advantage.

"I don’t understand why they didn’t let us do it before," he added.

Florida coach Mike White, whose Gators won 71-55 at Vanderbilt last Wednesday, said on Monday's SEC coaches teleconference that the Commodores' floor layout isn't a huge factor and not nearly as important as entering the arena with a solid gameplan and executing.

"Going into Memorial, your focus has to be on defending those guys and their actions and figuring out ways to score against a team that brings it every night," White said. "Vanderbilt has had a lot of adversity, but they compete at a high level and they’re always prepared.

"It’s a different setup, of course, you’re away from your guys and your staff moreso than any other game, but I’m sure none of us try to make too big of a deal out of it."

Vanderbilt, which enters Wednesday's game on a 17-game losing streak, shoots the ball well at home. The Commodores hit 54 percent of their 2-point looks and 36.3 percent of their 3s in Memorial Gym compared to 46.9 and 25.3 percent, respectively, on the road or at neutral sites.

In its narrow loss at Arkansas on Feb. 5, Vanderbilt knocked down 9-of-21 3-point attempts, tied for second-most 3s made in a game in SEC play. The Commodores made 10-of-21 in their overtime loss to then-No. 1 Tennessee in Nashville.

"The primary goal is to keep them off the line," Anderson said. "They also do a good job of getting to the hole and spacing the floor and screen and roll, cutting to the basket. We’ve got to be with the shooters and force them off the line.

"Bryce Drew has those kids still playing and still believing, so we’re going to have our work cut out for us."

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