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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Looking to Defy the Odds: Commodores search for first win in Lexington since 2007

After taking down Georgia on Saturday night, the Vanderbilt Commodores will look to continue building momentum against No. 5 Kentucky on Wednesday.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Scotty Pippen Jr. shoots a 3-pointer in Vanderbilt’s loss to Kentucky in Jan. 2021. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

The Vanderbilt Commodores (11-9, 3-5 SEC) will face a difficult task on Wednesday night as they look to take down the 5th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats (17-4, 6-2 SEC). The two teams last met on Jan. 11, when, despite a strong second half performance by the Commodores, Kentucky cruised to a 78-66 victory. 

Since then, Kentucky has gone 4-1, with their sole loss coming against No. 1 Auburn. Among those four wins are two against ranked opponents, including an impressive victory over No. 10 Kansas last weekend. However, Commodores head coach Jerry Stackhouse is not afraid of the challenge at hand.

I think we all can agree that rankings are overrated,” Stackhouse told reporters on Monday. “If you watch college basketball over the last few weeks, you know, it’s just about who’s playing well and we feel like we’re probably getting as whole as we’ve been all season.”

The process of becoming “whole” will likely not include the return of senior center Liam Robbins, who has been out all season with a foot injury, although Stackhouse did not officially rule him out just yet. After transferring to Vanderbilt from Minnesota after last season, Robbins seemed poised to take on a leading role in Vanderbilt’s frontcourt but has yet to make an appearance for the Commodores. Fortunately, while he may not be ready to play against Kentucky, he should be back on the court before the end of the season.

“He had a good workout [Sunday], played some three-on-three, got up and down the court,” Stackhouse said. “He’s working his butt off and hopefully sooner rather than later he’s able to get out there.” 

Without him, containing Kentucky forward Oscar Tschiebwe could be difficult. The last time these teams faced off, he recorded 30 points and 13 rebounds while shooting nearly 70% from the field. Tschiebwe’s performance against the Commodores was a microcosm of his dominance throughout the 2021-22 season, in which he has averaged over 16 points and 15 rebounds per game. He has been aided by playing alongside junior Keion Brooks Jr., who is enjoying his best season since arriving at Kentucky three years ago. 

But, the Wildcats’ offensive firepower goes beyond their star forwards. A backcourt consisting of senior Kellan Grady, junior Sahvir Wheeler and freshman Tyty Washington Jr. has posed problems for opposing defenses all season. All three are averaging over 10 points per game, possessing the ability to score within the paint and beyond the arc. Trying to defend against so many weapons will be a grueling task for the Commodores, and one that Stackhouse is well aware of. 

“They’re a really good team, we’ve got to be prepared to guard them,” Stackhouse said. “It’s going to be important for us to mix it up with them to not give them a steady diet of anything. [Kentucky head coach John Calipari] is going to switch it up. He has the personnel to do that and he does a really good job of that.”

Offensively, Vanderbilt will rely on their guards to score efficiently and effectively. The return of Rodney Chatman, who had been sidelined with a hamstring injury, has given a boost to a backcourt that has been carried by Scotty Pippen Jr. for much of the season. Stackhouse believes that the key to success for the Commodores will lie within these two players.

“We like our matchup with Rodney and Scotty out there together,” he said. “It hasn’t been any secret [that] when they’re out there, together, we’ve seen to be able to have some success.”

Still, it will take a complete team effort to put together a strong enough offensive performance to keep up with the Wildcats. Back in January, Pippen totaled 32 points against Kentucky and the Commodores still lost by 12. Contributions from forwards Myles Stute and Jordan Wright will be crucial if Vanderbilt wants to avoid a similar result on Wednesday. 

Doing so would be an excellent way to start the final stretch of the season. Now two-thirds of the way through the schedule, Vanderbilt is looking to finish strong. With difficult matchups ahead, Stackhouse knows that taking it game-by-game is the only way to ensure that the Commodores can stay above .500 on the year. 

“We’re coming into February for the first time with a winning record since we’ve been here. So that’s important for us,” he said. “And then we look back at some of the games that we’ve lost, we know that our record could be better than that. But that’s our challenge. These 10 games, let’s have a winning record, after these 10 games and see where we are.”

The Commodores and Wildcats will square off at 6 p.m. CST on Wednesday.

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About the Contributor
Luke Rollfinke
Luke Rollfinke, Senior Staff Writer
Luke Rollfinke ('25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science planning to major in mathematics with a minor in communications. Luke loves all things sports, so when he's not writing for The Hustler, he's probably either playing for a club or intramural Vanderbilt sports team. You can reach him at [email protected].
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