For all of you who took shots at me for jumping on the Vandy wagon following the Kentucky game, last night proved once again that the wagon is still rolling strong!
The Dores improved to 9-4 in the conference and 24-4 overall by winning their seventh straight game and knocking off No. 1 ranked Tennessee. This came right after Tennessee had thumped Memphis from the No. 1 spot this past Saturday.
Tennessee, who lost for only the second time in conference play, fell to 25-3 overall and will most likely see their historical first time ranking as the nation’s top team come to an end with the new poll on Monday.
The Vols are yet another team to repeat the theme of losing after reaching the top of the polls.
Vandy jumped out to a demanding lead before falling apart and witnessing the Vols storm back to come within three at half-time (Chris Lofton’s missed attempt at a three at the buzzer would have tied it going into intermission).
Tennessee tied it up early in the second half, only to have the Commodores soon take the lead back, which they never let go.
Jermaine Beal scored 17 for Vandy, and Chris Lofton led the way for the Vols with 25. However, no stat was more shocking than the combined 53 fouls between the two schools, which made the second half seem to last forever.
Neither team made an impressive display of shooting as Vandy hit 19-of-49 from the floor, and Tennessee made only 20-of-61. The shooting, or a lack-thereof, combined with the fouls, made this game hard to watch at times, but in the end Vanderbilt fans were thrilled to see their team come away with their first win over a ranked opponent in three attempts this season.
Vandy, who has had some trouble with ranked opponents, has a knack for conquering No. 1 teams. They have faced the nation’s best team nine times in the schools history, winning six of those nine, as well as four straight victories versus a No. 1 opponent, including last year’s victory over the eventual national champion Florida Gators.
Vanderbilt will travel to Arkansas on Saturday and will finish out the year with Miss. State at home and on the road at Alabama next week. With three games that appear to be in their favor, Vandy has an excellent shot at finishing their SEC schedule with an impressive 12-4 record after starting the SEC season 2-4. They should also continue to climb the polls to improve on their No. 18 ranking, as they have won all 18 home games this season and 31 of their last 32 at Memorial Gym.
Tennessee, who had their nine-game winning streak come to a halt Tuesday night, will host Kentucky on Sunday for the second time this season. This time the Vols will look to avenge their January 22, six-point loss to the Wildcats, their only other SEC defeat this season.
The remaining schedule for the Vols is a bit more challenging the Vandy’s, with a visit to Florida and a season finale at home against South Carolina. Nevertheless, if the Vols can pull off a win against Kentucky and at least a split of the last two they will enter the SEC tournament as the No. 1 seed.
The Kentucky-Tennessee game should prove to be a great rematch as the spirit of the Vols appears to be unscathed, and their overall goals seem to remain in focus.
This fortitude was best displayed as senior guard Chris Lofton said concerning the consideration of Tennessee losing their number one ranking, "I want to be ranked No. 1 at the end of the year."