After stumbling early in their Southeastern Conference schedule, Vanderbilt has gotten its season back on track.
The 18th-ranked Commodores will be looking to build off their biggest win of the season when they visit Arkansas on Saturday.
Vanderbilt (24-4, 9-4) knocked off top-ranked Tennessee 72-69 on Tuesday for its seventh straight win. The Commodores won their fourth straight at home against No. 1 teams and improved to 18-0 on their own floor this season.
The win came just a day after the Volunteers earned their first-ever No. 1 ranking.
“It’s special,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “We needed a win. It was a home game. It’s a big game for them. You want to win any game, but you certainly want to win big games. This was a big game.”
Shan Foster matched his season high with 32 points for Vanderbilt, which has won seven straight conference games for the first time since winning eight in a row in 1992-93. The Commodores are in third place in the SEC’s East Division, two games behind Tennessee and one behind Kentucky.
“It’s an honor,” said Foster, who leads the SEC with 19.8 points per game. “Coach Stallings told us that people go their entire career without facing the best team in the nation, so we knew how important this game was. We prepared well for the game.”
The Commodores have not lost since falling 74-58 at then-No. 24 Mississippi on Jan. 30. That defeat was the fourth in a span of five games, including an 80-60 loss at Tennessee on Jan. 17.
Since then, however, Vanderbilt has outscored its opponents by an average of 10.3 points per game.
“The four games that we’ve lost have given us an opportunity to see what we can improve on and get better,” Foster said. “We practice hard and try to make ourselves better every time we’re out there.”
Keeping their winning streak alive against the Razorbacks (18-9, 7-6) likely won’t be easy, as the Commodores have lost five straight at Arkansas since a 80-73 win during the 1995-96 season. Vanderbilt has lost six of the last seven meetings overall.
The Commodores have averaged 80.7 points this season, second in the SEC to Tennessee. However, they will be up against a Razorbacks defense that is yielding just 65.3 per game, good for second in the league.
Vanderbilt is giving up a league-worst 73.2 points per contest.
The Razorbacks are battling for a berth in the NCAA tournament, but have lost four of five, including Wednesday’s 59-56 defeat at Alabama. Sonny Weems, who leads the team with 15.4 points per game, and Darian Townes both had 17.
Arkansas has failed to reach 60 points in its last two games, including a 63-58 loss at Kentucky last Saturday.
“The play was just terrible at both ends of the floor,” coach John Pelphrey said after Wednesday’s loss. “Very few bright spots.”
Pelphrey remains one win shy of the school record for wins by a first-year coach.
“This is an important game. They all are. Alabama was important,” he said of the matchup with Vanderbilt.
“One thing that is evident is that there are not a lot of games left. Every game is important, because there are fewer and fewer of them.”