WKU hoping to use Vanderbilt game as season springboard again

WKU hoping to use Vanderbilt game as season springboard again

Zach Greenwell

Head Coach Ken McDonald said he’d love to feel some déjà vu after Wednesday’s game at Vanderbilt.

After opening last season 4-3, WKU picked up its first signature win over a ranked Vanderbilt team in Nashville. That sparked a 7-2 stretch that included wins over Murray State, Mississippi State and South Alabama.

With WKU (3-3) having dropped three of its last four contests this year, McDonald said he hopes the Vanderbilt game can work the same magic again.

“We went and made it happen,” McDonald said of last year’s game. “I think that’s probably the message we’ll try to send from the Vandy game – effort, and that we went out and took the game. We didn’t just hang around and sneak by.

“We rebounded the ball well, we scrapped, and we played hard from the beginning to the end.”

WKU will have its hands full with the Commodores (5-1) again this season.

Vanderbilt made the same trip to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off as the Toppers, but left with much better results.

The Commodores lost by three to West Virginia in the second round of the tournament, but they sandwiched that defeat with wins over Nebraska and North Carolina.

Vanderbilt’s size will also pose some problems for WKU, starting three players taller than 6-foot-7-inches and no one shorter than 6-foot-3-inches.

“It’s not so much the length, but you’ve got to guard the rim,” McDonald said. “I don’t think they’re a post-dominant kind of team. But they don’t make a lot of mistakes, and they don’t try to go out of their playbook and go one-on-one a lot. They screen for each other, they cut hard, and you’re going to see a team that wants to go low early. We’ll have to handle that.”

Sophomore guard John Jenkins leads Vanderbilt with 19.7 points per game. Juniors Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli each average 11.3 points per game.

“They’re definitely going to play with a chip on their shoulder since we got the win last year, but they’re very good,” WKU sophomore guard Caden Dickerson said. “They execute their game plan very well, and they’re just a tough team.”

Although the two teams played in Nashville last year, the game was played at neutral Bridgestone Arena — formerly the Sommet Center.

The matchup is a true home game for Vanderbilt this year, playing in Memorial Gymnasium.

McDonald said the Toppers are preparing for the quirks of the building, such as the elevated court and the benches on the baselines, by preaching communication and experimenting with play cards in practice.

He also said the coaching staff had some difficulty scouting the Commodores in Puerto Rico because Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings covered his mouth and used multi-colored play cards.

But despite the misdirection, McDonald said WKU is familiar enough with them already.

“I don’t know if we stole many calls,” he said, smiling. “Hopefully they’re confused by their own system. It was a funny scout, but at this point, we know what they run. We’re going to have to guard four or five big sets and try to play them hard.”

Game time is scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday. The game can be viewed online at ESPN3.com.

Things don’t get easier for the Toppers after Vanderbilt, as they travel to No. 14 Memphis on Saturday.

After hosting South Carolina for a gut-wrenching loss last weekend, and with the Louisville home game just on the horizon, Dickerson said all of the early tests for WKU will pay off down the road.

“It’ll be difficult, but it’s also very exciting,” Dickerson said. “We play Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt, Memphis at Memphis. Those are environments that as a basketball player, you hope to play in and you dream about playing in. We’re all excited and preparing for the stretch.”

Crook may be back

McDonald said WKU may again have the services of sophomore guard Jamal Crook against Vanderbilt. Crook missed the South Carolina game because of a hamstring injury.

McDonald said he expected Crook to practice Tuesday, and the decision to play him or not Wednesday would be based off that.

He also said there was nothing extracurricular going on with senior forward Cliff Dixon’s limited playing time against South Carolina. Dixon picked up two fouls in the first half and just played four minutes in the double-overtime game.

McDonald said Dixon wasn’t injured or being disciplined, but just had some “breakdowns” against the Gamecocks that kept him off the court.

“He came back and had a great attitude and practice yesterday, and I think he has the opportunity to really affect the game tomorrow,” McDonald said.