A 20-point performance against Alabama, followed by a 32-point game against Kentucky on national television, had the media talking about Vanderbilt's John Jenkins as a legitimate Southeastern Conference player of the year candidate after the sophomore guard led the Commodores to two huge wins. The last 14 minutes of Wednesday's game against Georgia in VU's 64-56 road win won't hurt his case, either.
Jenkins was scoreless for the first 26 minutes, but exploded for 21 in the final 14 minutes to drive VU's 64-56 victory over the Bulldogs in Athens. With Georgia leading 40-26, Jenkins nailed a 3 with 13:15 left, and outscored the Bulldogs 21-16 by himself from there.
"We knew at some point he was going to come in and get hot. He's a great shooter. You're never going to shut him down completely," said Georgia guard Dustin Ware.
Jenkins leads the league in scoring with a 19.8-point average in all games, but has been even better in SEC games, averaging 22.2 per contest. Those points in league games are coming efficiently, too: after Wednesday's game, Jenkins ranks fifth in the league in field goal percentage in SEC games (53.8 percent), third in free throw percentage (91.8), and second in 3-point percentage (46.7). In those 11 games, he's hit more free throws and 3-pointers than any player in the league.
Jenkins' scoring surge has come as his offensive game has become better-rounded. With teams getting in his face to stop the 3-pointer (he hit 72-of-149 last year), Jenkins has worked hard on driving and finishing in the lane. As a result, he's already shot 136 free throws, compared to 60 last season.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Lance Goulbourne once again tried to play through a sprained ankle, but managed only five minutes on Wednesday. That's left coach Kevin Stallings with what is essentially a seven-man rotation, and consequently, the Commodores, primarily a man-to-man team in Stallings' tenure, to play a lot of zone lately.
But after Alabama and Kentucky each scored 77 points against VU, and Georgia had hit 9-of-18 3-point shots approximately mid-way through the second half, Stallings went back to a man-to-man. It worked like a charm, as the Bulldogs didn't score a field goal in the last 9:49 on Wednesday. That helped quite a bit against SEC preseason player of the year Trey Thompkins, who scored just eight points.
"They started to play man and Trey had a hard time getting good looks," UGA coach Mark Fox said.
--Vanderbilt couldn't buy a basket for most of the first half, hitting just 8-of-37 from the field in the first 20 minutes. Jeffery Taylor, VU's second-leading scorer, hit just 2-of-18 for the game. But the Commodores used strong defense (Georgia hit just 35.8 percent from the field) and rebounding (a 49-32 edge) in a 64-56 road victory.
--Festus Ezeli dominated the paint against a Georgia team that gave the 'Dores fits there in their earlier meeting in Nashville. Ezeli scored 10 points, collected 12 rebounds, and blocked a career-high seven shots on Wednesday. Ezeli now has 123 career blocks, which has moved him into third on VU's all-time list.
--G John Jenkins overcame the pain from a shoulder injury a week earlier to score 32 points against Kentucky last week, the first time in over 31 years that a Vanderbilt player has topped the 30-point mark against the Wildcats. Mike Rhodes had 34 for Vandy back on Jan. 19, 1980.
"It definitely hurts right now, but during the game I feel all right," Jenkins said of his sore shoulder, which is on his right, or shooting, side. "During half-time I was extremely hurting, and I put heat on it. And right now I'm hurting really bad, too, but it's something that I've got to play through."
Jenkins was 11-of-17 shooting, a career high in field goals, and 6-of-10 on three-pointers. He played all but 23 seconds of the game.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7-5 -- Vanderbilt's record against Kentucky under coach Kevin Stallings in the games played at Memorial Gym.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "At one time, coach Muller said, 'Coach, John's been in the whole game. We need to get him out. I said we'll get him out tomorrow." -- Coach Kevin Stallings, on his reaction when assistant Dan Muller suggested giving G John Jenkins a rest.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--at Auburn, Feb. 19
KEY MATCHUPS: Sophomore G Earnest Ross is Auburn's most consistent scoring threat. Vandy should have the advantage inside with 6-11 C Festus Ezeli and 6-9 Steve Tchiengang working against 6-8 Auburn F Kenny Gabriel and 6-8 Adrian Forbes. Though Auburn has struggled, the Tigers showed by rallying from 19 points down to beat Mississippi State that they can't be taken for granted.
FUTURES MARKET: Junior F Andre Walker (ankle) was back in practice but did not play against either Alabama or Kentucky. A starter early in the season, he has not played since Vandy's win over Marquette on Dec. 29. He could be a steadying force down the stretch for the Commodores if he is able to return.
--Junior F Steve Tchiengang had 12 points against Kentucky, a high for him against an SEC opponent. He took two three-pointers and hit both, making him 17-of-38 from behind the arc.
--Junior G/F Jeffery Taylor scored only four points against Kentucky and was limited to just 21 minutes because of foul troubles. It was only the second time in the last 18 games he has failed to reach double figures.