By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — After hitting a season low against Alabama, the Vanderbilt Commodores are playing their best basketball of the SEC part of their season. Their 88-80 victory over Florida Saturday on the road evened their conference mark at 6-6, the same as the Gators. Both teams are also 13-12 overall for the year. But with wins over Ole Miss, Tennessee and Florida, Vanderbilt is surging as they head into the final three weeks of the conference race.
A huge plus for Vanderbilt has been Center Liam Robbins. Originally projected to miss four to six weeks with an injury, Robbins missed only a little over two weeks before returning. Saturday he was the Commodores best player on both ends of the floor. Offensively he had 32 points and 10 rebounds. Defensively he had four blocks and altered several other shots. While his counterpart Colin Castleton had 25 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, Robbins was clearly the superior player.
The Commodores defense also held Florida scoreless for at least three different periods of multiple minutes, Jordan Wright added 10 points and 10 rebounds to the Commodores effort. They got three three-pointers from Trey Thomas in the first half and Vanderbilt led by one at 42-41. There were several lead chabcesuntil Vandebilt took control down the stretch.
It was the second time in a week that Vanderbilt ended a school’s long dominance over them. Their 66-65 win over Tennessee snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Volunteers, while Saturday’s win ended Florida’s nine game winning streak over the Commodores.
Head coach Jerry Stackhouse has been under fire for much of the season, but currently Vanderbilt is playing excellent basketball despite often being shorthanded. They still haven’t gotten Myles Stute out of his shooting slump and Lee Dort remains on the sidelines injured. But the Stackhouse lineup that is now featuring more of an inside-outside game with Robbins in the low post, combined with an array of special defenses, have turned Vanderbilt into a potential SEC Tournament contender.
They hoped to continue their streak against SEC basement holder South Carolina Tuesday. Auburn, one of the league’s top teams, comes to Nashville Saturday night.