March 13, 2010 11:45:00 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Always a hallmark for Rick Stansbury''s Mississippi State men''s basketball teams, defense helped push the Bulldogs to their second straight Southeastern Conference Tournament title game.
And it was more than NCAA blocked shots titan Jarvis Varnado, who finished with six swats Saturday in a 62-52 victory against No. 20 Vanderbilt, to extend his all-time record to 546.
Senior Barry Stewart, who holds the team''s all-time record for career 3-pointers, has long been championed by Stansbury as the league''s top perimeter defender. The Tennessee native proved again Saturday why that''s true.
Stewart drew the defensive assignment against John Jenkins, Vanderbilt''s top perimeter shooter. The freshman John Jenkins entered the game averaging 11 points and shooting 47.6 percent from 3-point range. But Jenkins had only seven points Saturday, despite playing the second-most minutes (32) for the Commodores.
Jenkins came into the game fresh off a 25-point effort in a victory against Georgia on Friday in the tournament quarterfinals.
"My coaches did a great scouting report," Stewart said. "It was a late night, I wasn''t able to look at film or anything. They let me know he went off for about 15 in the second half, so I wanted to stay into him and not let him get a good look at the basket and put a lot of pressure on him. Today I was fortunate he didn''t scorch."
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings gave credited Stewart''s defense for affecting Jenkins and his team''s offense.
"It was going to be tough for him to get open," Stallings said. "Stewart''s a senior. He understands dealing with screens. He understands how to use his body. He''s a very good defensive player and very underrated."
Big Blue in the house
Enjoying a noticeable advantage in crowd attendance Saturday, Kentucky walloped Tennessee 74-45 to advance to today''s SEC tournament final.
The Wildcats had their lead cut to six with nine minutes to go before closing the game on a 29-6 run.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl admitted after the game that Kentucky had "a home-court advantage" despite the tournament being in the Volunteers'' home state.
Stansbury knows it''ll be much of the same today, and he hopes the Vanderbilt and Tennessee who remain today will be anti-Kentucky supporters.
"Big Blue, as you well know, they''re going to travel. We''re going to play like they''re cheering for us out there," Stansbury said. "Our guys, we understand what we''re up against. That crowd, that''s not going to affect what''s between those lines.
"They''re going to have their moments, and we just hope we can keep it close enough to maybe keep that fans out of it."
DeMarcus Cousins led Kentucky with 19 points and 15 rebounds.
The Bulldogs hope the addition of Ravern Johnson and a foul-free Jarvis Varnado will give the team the extra lift it lacked in the first meeting. Johnson sat the first meeting after being suspended for "attitude detrimental to the team," while Varnado played half the game with foul trouble in what turned out to be an overtime loss in Starkville.
Stansbury not sweating wasted leads
In the last two games, MSU has seen a 17- and a 13-point advantage get trimmed to single digits late in the second half.
Florida rallied Friday before Vanderbilt got within three points with just three minutes remaining.
Both times, however, MSU turned up its defense and survived. Stansbury shrugged off the any concern about the late-game scares and instead, for the second straight day, enjoyed a quality win against a team the Bulldogs had lost to in the regular season.
"We''re playing against very good teams," Stansbury said. "Florida is a quality team. Vanderbilt''s a quality team. They''re going to make runs at us. Depth is always a concern. Fatigue is always a concern. Those are things that sometimes cause teams to make runs at us. Both nights they''ve done it, we''ve held them off."