NEW ORLEANS -- Vanderbilt isn't intimidated by Kentucky. The Commodores have a great deal of respect for the Wildcats, but they also have a strong desire to challenge the No. 1 team in the nation.
"We want to play them," senior guard Brad Tinsley said. "They're the best team in the nation. Who wouldn't want to play them in the conference championship game? They've earned it. They've had a great season and we're ready to take them on again."
Vanderbilt (23-10, 10-6 Southeastern Conference) has lost to Kentucky (32-1, 16-0 SEC) twice this year, but not without challenging the Wildcats. The Commodores used a second half rally in Nashville on Feb. 11 and led UK with less than four minutes to go, but went cold from the field and lost 69-63.
They'll hope to build on that and their 83-74 loss in Lexington on Feb. 25 when Vanderbilt and Kentucky face off for the SEC Tournament championship on Sunday at 1 p.m. The Commodores haven't won the conference tournament since 1951, when they beat a one-loss Kentucky team that eventually won the national championship.
"We felt like we could have won those games," senior forward Lance Goulbourne said. "We had the lead late at our place and it was close at their place. We want to beat the No. 1 team in the country going into the postseason. We feel like we have a team that can do it. We have a lot of players that can dominate on any given night."
Vanderbilt can be encouraged by their performances against Kentucky earlier in the season, but a daunting task awaits them.
"Can anybody play any better than Florida played today?" Stallings said. "Holy cow. I mean, that's the best I've seen Florida play all year, and it wasn't enough. So that just kind of speaks to the greatness of this Kentucky team."
There are similarities between Vanderbilt and Florida. Both teams are near the nation's leaders in three-point shooting. But where the Gators had struggled against Kentucky in the regular season, the Commodores hung tough.
Vanderbilt's offensive attack is led by Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins. Taylor had a team-high 19 points in their last meeting, while Jenkins had 18.
Goulbourne said Florida's game against Kentucky won't give Vanderbilt any new information on how to end the Wildcats' 24-game win streak and deny them a 19-0 run through the SEC. With such a short turnaround, Vanderbilt will try and force Kentucky to make adjustments to its style of play.
"We have a lot of guys on the wings that can shoot threes, that's how we play," Goulborne said. "But we're definitely going to try and pound it inside to Festus and try to get those guys in foul trouble."
Beating Kentucky physically will be a challenge. To win Vanderbilt's second SEC tournament championship, they'll have to do more than that, Goulbourne said.
"If I won 30 games in a season, I would have crazy confidence as well," Goulborne said. "They expect to win and rightly so ... That's one thing we have to do, we have to beat their mentality."
That, and much more.
"We have to play really well," Tinsley said. "You can't play mediocre or kind of good and beat a time like that."