For 40 minutes, it was as if the Razorbacks couldn't miss. Every Vanderbilt run was answered with big baskets and +1 fouls and Arkansas pulled a big upset over the Commodores, 89-78 on Saturday night.
Rotnei Clarke and little-used reserve Michael Sanchez led Arkansas throughout the game, outplaying their more-hyped counterparts John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli. Though both players had struggled in SEC play, Sanchez's emergence was by far the most unlikely. The junior forward had scored only 17 points on the season before exploding for 20 in Nashville. Clarke, who came in to the game averaging just nine points per game in league play, turned Memorial Gym into his own game of NBA Jam, catching fire and blistering the net from all over the court. Clarke finished with 36 points behind 6-8 shooting from deep range. As a team, Arkansas shot 57.4 percent from the field.
The Razorbacks used an 11-2 run with 14 minutes to play to create an insurmountable lead that the 'Dores couldn't overcome. Arkansas scored on four straight possessions - including three three-pointers - to stretch their lead to 15 points and take the air out of Memorial Gym. Vandy clawed back to within eight with seven minutes to play, but the Hogs responded with five straight points that squashed any momentum the team had built. Vanderbilt wouldn't get any closer than eight after that.
John Jenkins led Vandy offensively, continuing his streak of efficient scoring. Jenkins scored 22 points on 10 shots from the field. Festus Ezeli had 18 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks. Jeffery Taylor added 13 points and four assists.
A running subplot in the game was the tight grip of the referees over the flow of the game. Touch fouls were rampant as the officiating crew seemed intent on making every contested layup a three point play. The calls went both ways, taking Arkansas's starting forwards out of the game early and turning defensive stops into free points for each side. Not surprisingly, neither team appeared to be too happy with their referees tonight. The lack of technical fouls for either coaching staff merely suggests that the zebras had hearing problems as well as vision ones.
The loss was another instance of an opposing guard coming to life and having a career performance against the Commodores. When Bruce Ellington did this earlier in the month, it was easy to write it off as a one-time problem. Now, as all-star performances from flawed guards have started to become common, it may be time to re-assess where this team stands. Will they be able to withstand a barrage from Kentucky's guards next month? What about Ellington's return performance in Memorial Gym? Today's beating at the hands of Arkansas casts some doubt over Vandy's chances to contain other sharpshooting guards in the SEC.