NASHVILLE - His Commodores' 13-point second-half lead over Arkansas having shrunk to four fragile points Thursday night, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings broke into a wide smile, looked his players in the eye and shouted, "This is awesome!"
Less than two minutes later, this was a 75-72 victory for Vandy over Arkansas in the second round of the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament.
The win moves the Commodores into tonight's quarterfinal round opposite Kentucky, which beat VU twice in the regular season by a total of six points.
Last year Vandy lost twice to Kentucky in the regular season but shocked the Wildcats in the SEC tourney title game.
"I don't want to profess that we're ready to win a close game against Kentucky," Stallings said after his young squad improved to 15-16 overall and 9-10 against SEC opposition. "But I hope we are."
Playing as they did for most of the Arkansas win, the Commodores could beat almost anyone. They finished the night hitting 12 of 28 3-pointers (43 percent) while limiting the Razorbacks -- with whom VU had split during the regular season -- to four 3s in 16 attempts.
First among the Vandy sharpshooters was reserve guard Kyle Fuller, who hit three triples and finished with 19 points, one behind teammate Rod Odom's game-high total. B.J. Young led the Razorbacks with 16.
"Give Kevin's team credit," losing coach Mike Anderson said. "They fought a lot harder than we did."
And yet there Arkansas stood with 50 seconds to go, down two points and owning the ball, much of its rally due to VU turnovers (12) and missed free throws (13 misses in 30 attempts).
"Earlier in the season we would have lost this game," Stallings said. "The turnovers and [missed] free throws would have freaked us out."
Instead, the 'Dores lived to fight another day, just as they'd planned beforehand.
"Our goal was to make it to Friday," Stallings said late Thursday evening. "Now our goal is to make it to Saturday."