Vanderbilt’s chances at its first SEC regular-season title since 1993 are fading away, but it still has an opportunity to make the upcoming conference tournament a little easier.
A visit from one of the league’s worst teams would seem to help the 16th-ranked Commodores, but Georgia has proved too tough to handle in the past two matchups.
Vanderbilt will try to avenge those defeats Thursday night by keeping the Bulldogs winless on the road this season.
The Commodores (20-6, 9-3) had their 18-game home win streak snapped Saturday in a 58-56 loss second-ranked and SEC-leading Kentucky.
John Jenkins’ 3-pointer got Vanderbilt within a point with 14 seconds left, but the Wildcats blocked his go-ahead attempt with three to go. A.J. Ogilvy also missed a runner in the lane as time expired.
The loss put the Commodores two games behind Kentucky with four games left, but they also face a challenge for the No. 2 spot in the SEC East. The top two teams in each division receive a bye into the conference tournament quarterfinals.
Vanderbilt is one-half game ahead of Florida, who will host the Commodores on March 2. That makes Thursday’s game and Saturday’s trip to Arkansas crucial.
While the Bulldogs are 7-21 in SEC the last two seasons, two of those victories have come over Vanderbilt.
In a 72-58 home win Feb. 6, Georgia (12-13, 4-8) hit 14 of its final 21 shots and pulled away with 49 points in the second half. The Bulldogs held the Commodores to 32.8 percent shooting while launching their current 3-2 stretch, which followed a 1-6 conference start.
“We’ll have to make some adjustments and see if we can’t play better this time around,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “I think we’ve gotten better since then, and they probably have too. We’re going to have to keep playing like we did this past week and hopefully hit a few more shots.”
The Bulldogs also limited the Commodores to 31.4 percent shooting in a 61-57 win on Feb. 25, 2009, but hasn’t triumphed at Vanderbilt since 2006. Georgia, 0-10 away from home this season, fell 50-40 there on Jan. 14, 2009 for its third straight defeat in Nashville and seventh in eight trips.
The Bulldogs have dropped 19 of their past 20 overall road games and 22 of 24 in SEC play.
“We haven’t gotten over the hump on the road,” first-year coach Mark Fox said. “We’re a lot better team away from home than in the first couple of trips. We’ve got everyone bringing their sneakers now. We’re growing … Thursday is another chance for us.”
One sign of that growth was Saturday’s 76-70 comeback win over Alabama. Trey Thompkins had 21 points and a career-best 17 rebounds to help his team rally from a 13-point deficit in the final 11 minutes.
Thompkins, a sophomore forward, is among the SEC leaders with 17.6 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
Thompkins and Travis Leslie each had 17 points to pace Georgia in its previous win against Vanderbilt. Jermaine Beal scored 21 points and Brad Tinsley had a season-high 18 as they were the only Commodores players in double figures.
The rest of the team contributed 19 points and were a combined 6 of 33 from the field, including an 0-for-9 performance from Jenkins.
Vanderbilt leads the series 81-48, winning 44 of 59 at home.