Stallings expects ‘slugfest’ unaffected by UK fan presence

After his team outlasted Arkansas 75-72 Thursday night, Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings spoke of the likelihood of a hotly competitive game with Kentucky on Friday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarter-finals.

“They’re pretty familiar with us (and) we’re pretty familiar with them,” he said of regular-season games won by two and four points by UK. “Two competitive games. … You sort of anticipate another slugfest for the third one.

On Wednesday, Stallings spoke of UK fans making the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville seem like Rupp Arena. After the Arkansas game, he dismissed the possibility of a mass of UK fans adversely affecting his team.

“I don’t care; we’ve seen it,” he said when asked of UK fans. “If 20,000 Kentucky fans are here, we played in front of 24 (in Rupp Arena). The atmosphere will not bother us.

“Kentucky players will bother us. That’s what we have to worry about. Our guys will compete. Our guys are not afraid. We have not had the kind of season we’re used to having. But I like these guys. They like to play.”

Vandy takes  a record of 15-16 into Friday’s game against Kentucky.

In the first meeting, Kentucky almost toyed with Vandy, then had to hold on down the stretch. Vandy’s leading scorer, Kedren Johnson, missed a contested three-point shot at the buzzer while allowed UK to win 60-58.

“I thought about it for about a week,” Johnson said, smling, of the miss. “I was so down. My dreams were shattered.”

In the rematch, Kentucky won 74-70. Stallings lamented Vandy’s defense. UK shot with 51.8-percent accuracy, the second-best of the season by a Vandy opponent.

“Our defense was completely ineffective against them,” the Vandy coach said. ” In that game, they just did what they wanted to do. They drove us. They threw it inside. If that happens again tomorrow night, we’ll just get beat again.”