After Vanderbilt’s homecourt loss to Kentucky on Feb. 11, Commodore coach Kevin Stallings
told his two star players, John Jenkins
and Jeffrey Taylor
, they needed to take ownership of crunch time.
More specifically, Stallings wanted the SEC’s top two scorers to put the ball in the air more often when games were on the line. Clearly, this was an edict with which Jenkins and Taylor had no problems complying.
Both made huge impacts on the Commodores’ last two games, important road wins that could have been the difference in whether they earned a bye in next month’s SEC Tournament. Losses in both would have put that bye into question. But Vanderbilt (19-8, 8-4) won both behind the potent one-two punch of Jenkins and Taylor and is now in good shape to avoid playing a Thursday game in the league tournament in New Orleans next month.
Taylor scored 28 points in 29 minutes against Ole Miss, knocking down 5 of 6 3-pointers. Jenkins didn’t miss a shot (5 for 5 from the field, 4 of 4 from 3) and made 12 of 15 free throws in scoring 26 points in 28 minutes.
Jenkins was even better at Georgia on Sunday. With his team struggling in the second half, Jenkins went off for 16 points as Vanderbilt pulled away for the win. He finished with 28. For the week, he missed fewer 3-pointers (10 of 12) than free throws (18 of 21).
Jenkins is now shooting 46 percent from 3, eighth in the nation, and has drained 102 3-pointers, most in the country. His average of 3.9 3s per game leads Division I. He’s got an outside chance of breaking former Vanderbilt star Shan Foster
’s SEC single-season record of 134 3-pointers.
The most impressive stat about Jenkins, though, is this: He’s made at least one 3 in his last 47 games. You would think some team would have devised a way to shut him out from behind the arc, but it hasn’t happened, for three reasons.
One, obviously, is the technical perfection of his stroke. Two, he’s got the fastest release in the college game. Jenkins can catch and launch in a blink. Three, he’s gotten craftier as his career has progressed, learning to put the ball on the floor to keep teams from crowding him on the perimeter and adopting a deadly pump fake that buys him separation from his defender.
WALKER’S TOUCH RETURNS
: Has any starting backcourt in the country delivered this season the way Florida’s did in a surprising rout of Arkansas on Saturday? Erving Walker
(31), Kenny Boynton
(25) and Bradley Beal
(21) combined for 77 of the Gators’ 98 points. The Razorbacks, who had been unbeaten at home this season, could muster just 68.
Walker, a shooting guard by trade who has made himself into a setup man, became Florida’s all-time assist leader recently, passing the mark of 503 set by Ronnie Montgomery
from 1985-88. But the Gators are better when the little man is scoring. In Florida’s four games before the Arkansas explosion, during which it went 2-2, Walker averaged 5.7 points and struggled with his shot (8 of 33, 24.2 percent). Against the Hogs, he tossed in 5 of 6 3-pointers, was 9 of 12 from the field and 8 of 8 from the free-throw line.
Not to be overlooked was Beal’s performance, which helped him earn the SEC’s freshman-of-the-week award for the sixth time this season. Not even Kentucky’s Anthony Davis
(three), the frontrunner to be chosen national freshman of the year, has won that honor as often.
Though the Gators (21-6, 9-3) got thumped a couple of times earlier this month, they’ve still been as consistent as any SEC team not named Kentucky. Florida is 4-1 on the road in league play, no small accomplishment, and has won 9 of its last 11.
STRUGGLE FOR FINAL BYE
: With four games to play in the regular season, four teams—Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State and Tennessee—are tied for fourth place at 6-6, and two more—Arkansas and Ole Miss—are right behind at 5-7.
A glance at the remaining schedule shows that Ole Miss (15-11, 5-7) has the most opportunity to affect which team earns that coveted bye—the Rebels play Alabama, LSU and Tennessee, the first two at home.
Mississippi State, which in the last two weeks has dropped out of position for what seemed like a certain bye with three straight losses, two of them in overtime, might have the toughest remaining schedule. It plays host to No. 1 Kentucky Tuesday night, has to play two road games in a row, including at Alabama, and finishes at home against Arkansas, which has already beaten the Bulldogs.
A key game between the four teams vying for the bye might be at LSU on Feb. 29, when the Tigers play host to Tennessee. The Vols have defied preseason expectations (they were picked to finish 8th in the league), mainly on the strength of sweeping Florida, which will probably finish second.
JOHNSON ON LINSANITY
: Give LSU coach Trent Johnson
credit. He’s been asked numerous times the last couple of weeks why he didn’t recruit New York Knicks surprise sensation Jeremy Lin
, who played his high school basketball games across the street from Stanford when Johnson was the coach there. And he’s patiently answered the question over and over again.
But as Johnson told the Fast Break, it wasn’t as though he didn’t think Lin couldn’t become a player. Like every other school that evaluated Lin, Johnson was concerned about Lin’s size—he weighed less than 160 pounds—but was willing to give him preferred walk-on status, as did Cal and UCLA. No mid-major offered Lin a scholarship.
“That, to me, is the amazing thing,” Johnson said. “Where was everybody else? When I was the coach at Nevada, I’d have jumped all over him, because in terms of his build, he reminded me of Todd Okeson
, the point guard we had at Nevada who helped us get to the Sweet 16 in 2004. The question I had with Todd [who weighed 165 pounds] was, physically, could he hold up? That’s the one thing you can’t predict when you’re talking about a kid who’s that skinny.”
“I had the same question about Jeremy, but we still wanted him to walk on at Stanford, maybe develop his body. Go back and look at all the guys who walked on for me and played. There was a history there. I liked [Lin’s] skill level and the fact that his teams won.”