Vandy again frustrated as it loses big to Tennessee
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Vanderbilt was good enough and resourceful enough to win a school-best 16 straight games to start the season.
The No. 14-ranked Commodores have been vulnerable enough to lose their last two games, turning the ball over in alarming numbers and digging themselves into deep first-half holes along the way.
If you're asking: Which is the real Vanderbilt team? You're not the only one.
So is Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings.
The next couple of weeks should provide a few more answers, especially with difficult road trips looming at Florida and Mississippi before the end of the month.
But Stallings was clear on one thing following Thursday night's 80-60 beatdown at the hands of No. 7-ranked Tennessee before 20,799 orange-crazed fans at Thompson-Boling Arena.
His team simply isn't playing very well right now, and he said to point the finger squarely at him.
"I'm not angry, but I'm certainly concerned," said Stallings, whose Commodores lost, 79-73 in double overtime, at Kentucky on Saturday. "I'm frustrated. I'm disappointed. I've been saying this for about a week now. But to me, turnovers and shot selection are two things when I watch a team play basketball, I attribute those to the coach.
"I think if a team takes care of the ball, it's because the coach probably demands that they take care of it. If a team takes good shots, that's usually a reflection of coaching. We're certainly not taking care of the ball, so what's that say for me?"
The Commodores (16-2 overall, 1-2 SEC) turned the ball over 22 times on Thursday. That's after turning it over a season-high 23 times against Kentucky five days earlier. In their last four games, they've had 20 or more turnovers three times.
"I think it's probably a combination of trying to do too much and then just being soft with the basketball," Vanderbilt freshman center A.J. Ogilvy said.
Of course, when Vandy's top two guns (Shan Foster and Ogilvy) are as ineffective offensively as they were against the Vols, the reality is that the Commodores are going to struggle against anybody they play.
The Dores were just 3-for-21 from 3-point range. And, making matters worse, they couldn't lean on Ogilvy inside.
"They caused us to take tough shots," Stallings said. "They were up on us, and we weren't making them pay. We didn't have anything going inside to make them pay."
Ogilvy finished with 12 points but was held to two points and three shots in the first half after getting into early foul trouble. Two of those shot attempts were blocked by Tennessee sophomore center Wayne Chism, who finished with 18 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks and thoroughly outplayed the big Aussie.
"After those two blocks, he wasn't going to the basket like he was at the beginning," Chism said.
The first-half blues are nothing new for the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Ogilvy, who was averaging 19.4 points and 7.1 rebounds entering Thursday's game. His problem has been getting on track early.
"A.J.'s not been very productive in the first half the last three or four games," Stallings said. "He did some nice things in the second half. But, again, you can't come to this place with their team and play a half and win. By that time, they had the game under control. He's a freshman. I think we forget that. This is his first time through this kind of thing."
The double whammy for the Commodores was that Foster, the SEC's leader in 3-pointers made, wasn't much better. He finished with 14 points but was 1 of 11 from beyond the arc. He had two 3-point misses on the same possession after Vanderbilt had trimmed a 21-point Tennessee lead to eight with 6 minutes, 30 seconds to play.
The second miss sort of summed up the Commodores' night -- an air ball.
"It's hard when things aren't going right," Foster said. "We just couldn't get it going offensively, and then when we did, we'd have a turnover here or there or a missed box out here or there or give up an easy bucket. In the SEC on the road, you can't win like that."
What galls Foster the most, though, is the way the Commodores have played in spurts. They did it at times in November and December and got away with it.
They won't be able to get away with it during the SEC.
"You've got to have the same type of energy, same type of intensity and same type of attention to detail for 40 minutes," said Foster, the SEC's scoring leader at 20.6 points per game. "The teams that are able to do that are the most successful. Once we're able to do that for 40 minutes, we'll be fine. But until we do that, we're going to struggle like we have in the past two games."
Against the Vols -- whose overall depth and improved half-court defense can be suffocating -- the Commodores let the game get away from them in the first half, Foster lamented.
"We were doing the things we were planning to do, and then all of a sudden for about a six- to seven-minute stretch, we let up," Foster said. "And on the road in the SEC, you can't afford to let up until the other team folds. It was kind of the other way around tonight. They kept it on us."
Tennessee (15-1, 3-0) was the first nationally ranked team Vanderbilt has faced this season. Moreover, the SEC schedule-maker certainly didn't do the Commodores any favors with four road dates in their first six games. It's still very much a prove-it-to-me proposition for Stallings and Co. until they start playing more consistently.
"We have to become more fundamentally sound and more disciplined, and when we do, then we'll get better," Stallings said.
In the meantime, nobody's panicking.
"We're 16-2. Things could be a lot worse," Foster said. "We definitely have confidence in ourselves. A lot of guys were saying that we've worked too hard to go out and play the way we have. We'll go back and be ready to play on Saturday."
Maybe for the entire game this time.
Chris Low is a college football and basketball writer for ESPN.com.
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