Xavier-Vanderbilt Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 27, 2011
Aside from a few slip-ups, Vanderbilt has been tough against non-conference foes at home over the past four-plus seasons - something Xavier forward Andre Walker knows quite well. Walker, a Vanderbilt transfer, looks to help the 12th-ranked Musketeers beat an SEC team for the ninth time in 10 tries when they visit the No. 18 Commodores on Monday night. A fifth-year senior, Walker started 40 games and averaged 4.0 points from 2007-2011 for Vanderbilt, though he missed all but three games of the 2008-09 season with a knee injury. He opted to transfer to Xavier following last season and wasn't forced to sit out a year since he earned an undergraduate degree from his previous school. "It's a weird experience," Walker said. "I don't know how many people transfer and play their former team. I talk to a few of the guys (from Vanderbilt) once or twice per week. It'll be good to see each other." Personal relationships aside, Walker knows playing at Vanderbilt can be a tough experience. The Commodores have won 38 of 41 home games against non-conference opponents since 2007. "They're a very tough-minded, defensive-oriented team," Walker said. "They like to push the ball in transition and have a very high-powered offense." Xavier (4-0) seems to have a solid chance to slow Vanderbilt, as it hasn't allowed more than 63 points in any of its wins. Friday's 70-56 victory over Georgia gave the Musketeers their eighth win in their last nine games versus SEC opponents. Tu Holloway took only four shots and scored 12 points while nursing a sore finger suffered in practice last week. He dished out a game-high four assists while Kenny Frease (12 points), Mark Lyons (10) and Travis Taylor (10) also scored in double figures. Holloway commended his teammates for stepping up to prove Xavier doesn't have to rely solely on him. "It makes the game a lot easier for me,'' said Holloway, who's averaging 15.0 points - 2.8 fewer than Lyons' team-high 17.8. "I don't have to force the issue and sometimes take bad shots or have bad turnovers because I'm trying to make plays. "As a point guard, that's what I want. Maybe if I was a shooting guard, I wouldn't be happy. But I'm a point guard. It makes the game easy for me when I can dish the rock off.'' Holloway hopes his finger will have healed by the time Xavier faces Vanderbilt for the first time since winning 80-68 in the first round of the 1997 NCAA tournament. The Commodores (5-1) began the season ranked seventh in the AP Poll, but they've played below coach Kevin Stallings' expectations. Vanderbilt had its 22-game non-conference home winning streak snapped Nov. 13 with a 71-58 loss to Cleveland State. The Commodores followed that with some uninspired performances against unranked opponents, including a 95-73 victory over winless Monmouth on Friday - a margin that masked what Stallings felt was a less-than-impressive effort. "I feel like we really got outworked, out-toughed, outplayed and we won because we have superior talent and superior players, size, strength and athleticism, skill,'' Stallings said. "But we lost the fight portion of the game tonight, and that's disappointing.'' Vanderbilt was already missing center Festus Ezeli - out until mid-December with a knee injury - and Steve Tchiengang sat out Friday's game with concussion-like symptoms after being hit in the face during a win over Oregon State on Nov. 21. John Jenkins has made helped minimize the impact of their absences, averaging a team-leading 20.2 points while shooting 42.6 percent from 3-point range. Xavier has lost its last four road games against ranked opponents since a 73-72 win at No. 25 Dayton on Feb. 22, 2003.
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