Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings is a little worried about a letdown, and it’s not because the 16th-ranked Commodores are facing struggling Alabama Saturday.
Vandy (25-5, 10-5 Southeastern Conference) is fresh from a dramatic overtime win over Mississippi State Wednesday night that featured Shan Foster’s 42-point effort.
Stallings is hoping the celebration doesn’t linger into the weekend.
“We’re coming off one of the great games that I’ve ever been involved in as a college basketball coach,” he said. “Our challenge will be to get our attention redirected and focused on going to Alabama.”
This should help: The Commodores need a win against the Crimson Tide (15-15, 4-11) coupled with a Kentucky loss to Florida Sunday to earn the No. 2 Eastern Division seed and a first-round bye in next week’s SEC tournament.
Otherwise, they’ll have to try the harder route to a tournament title starting with a Thursday game, potentially a rematch with Alabama.
“I think that it’s very difficult to win four games in four days - very, very difficult,” Stallings said. “Statistically, it’s just a very difficult thing to do. That’s why a bye can be so important.
“At this juncture it’s out of our control.”
The only tangible stake for Alabama, which has lost four of its last five games, is a chance to break a tie with Auburn for last place in the SEC West.
A bigger immediate priority for the Tide is finding a way to stop Foster, who made his last nine 3-pointers in the 86-85 win over SEC West champion Mississippi State. His last shot from beyond the arc was the game-winner with 2.7 seconds left.
Stallings called Foster’s performance “unbelievable and spectacular.” Alabama players and coaches were impressed, too.
“We’ve just got to make sure every basket he gets we have a hand in his face,” Alabama’s Demetrius Jemison said.
Tide coach Mark Gottfried was an assistant with the Pan American Games team that included Foster over the summer.
“I know how good a shooter he really is, because I watched him,” Gottfried said. “He’s just one those guys you just try not to let him get a lot of open looks.
“Even when you’re guarding him, he can make it, the way he shoots the ball. He’s just a good player.”
Some of the Tide’s recent losses have come to some of the SEC’s worst teams, Auburn, South Carolina and LSU. Alabama is 0-4 against ranked teams this season and facing a team that has won eight of its last nine games.
“We’ve obviously got our hands full,” Gottfried said. “They’re terrific. They are an excellent team and very, very talented.
“We’ve got to play awfully well.”
Vandy will still have to wait for its SEC tournament seeding even with a victory.
“To Kentucky’s credit, that’s a little bit out of our control,” Stallings said. “If they win, then it doesn’t matter what we do. We’ll just approach it the way we’ve been approaching it. We want to finish the conference season in a good way.
“If we’re fortunate enough that that would produce a No. 2 seed, then we would be really happy about that. If it doesn’t, then we’ll be playing on Thursday.”
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