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Vanderbilt focuses on rebounding against Tennessee

12:38 PM, Jan 29, 2013   |    comments
Jarnell Stokes. Wade Payne, AP
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By Jeff Lockridge | The Tennessean

There are a lot of opposing players Vanderbilt would rather see tonight than Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes.

Perhaps someone who didn't have the same rebound total on Saturday as the Commodores' entire team had in an 81-59 blowout loss at Missouri.

Vanderbilt was physically whipped by the Tigers, who owned the boards 40-18, while the UT sophomore forward pulled down a career-high 18 rebounds to go with 15 points in a 54-53 home win over Alabama.

How can the Commodores (8-10, 2-4 SEC) cope with the size and strength advantage that Stokes and the Vols (10-8, 2-4) have at 6 tonight (ESPNU) at Thompson-Boling Arena?

"Try a little harder," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "Box out a little bit more. Play a little bit more physical.

"On Saturday, we got our tails kicked on the boards and in every other way. And Tennessee, I would say, is as physical up front as any team in the league. Stokes, if he's not the strongest guy in the league, he's certainly one of them."

Stallings lit into his young team several times during Monday's practice after what players described as a tough session on Sunday. He put Shelby Moats and Josh Henderson, who have been his starting centers this season, on the scout team after the pair combined for one rebound at Missouri.

Vanderbilt may go with a small, perimeter-oriented lineup in Knoxville and ask 6-9 Rod Odom, 6-7 Sheldon Jeter and 6-6 James Siakam to block out the 6-foot-8, 270-pound Stokes and 6-9 post Kenny Hall.

"You never know what could happen around here," Stallings said. "It's a day-by-day process. So if you want to keep your job, you better produce. We've got to try to put the guys out there who are the most productive and see how they do.

"I don't care if they're comprised of walk-ons, tall guys, short guys, fat guys, slow guys ... if they can score and get rebounds and defensive stops, then I like them. If they can't, then I've got to try to find something else."

Moats acknowledged a message had been sent to the team.

"I need to focus more on boxing out than rebounding," said Moats, who was giving up 30-plus pounds to Missouri's Alex Oriakhi on Saturday. "It was hard. If you watch the tape, I couldn't move him. I guess that was effort."

"There's a lot of (playing) opportunity right now for us," Odom added. "That's all that is. It's just wide open for us."

It has been a seesaw campaign for Stokes, who has struggled with foul trouble and inconsistency. But the Memphis product showed what he is capable of against the Crimson Tide.

"That sounds like Karl Malone numbers right now," Vanderbilt sophomore guard Dai-Jon Parker said. "But we have no problem with him. We'll be able to box him out and hopefully secure rebounds."

Eight of Stokes' 18 rebounds were on the offensive end, helping UT generate 17 second-chance points.

"That is another way to score the basketball because it is so hard to just count on him when you throw it inside and they are doubling him," UT coach Cuonzo Martin said. "They are not going to let you beat them."

Stokes (11.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg) seemed to like his chances for another dominant game after watching film of Vanderbilt. The Commodores rank last in the SEC in rebounding margin.

"They play with four guards, somewhat similar to Alabama," Stokes said. "They play one big. That's their (post) defender. So the put-back kind of got them (at Missouri). Similar thing to Alabama, same playing style. Hopefully I can replicate it."

The Vols are playing their third game in six days -- something Vanderbilt did to start the SEC schedule (going 0-3).

It could be that the first team to 60 points wins. UT is averaging 64.4 points to Vanderbilt's 59.8. That might translate to a defensive-minded and potentially ugly in-state contest.

Vanderbilt's next-biggest concern is UT leading scorer Jordan McRae (14.7). Stallings considers the junior guard to be the SEC's best mid-range scorer.

As for his own players, Stallings considers them a mystery. He doesn't know what is coming next.

"This team has certainly been somewhat unpredictable," he said.

Reach Jeff Lockridge at 615-259-8023

or jlockridge@tennessean.com.

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