Rocky on the road

Head coach Billy Donovan has turned the Stephen C. O'Connell Center into an intimidating place for SEC opponents.

Sun file photo
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 1, 2008 at 12:26 a.m.

How do you win on the road in the Southeastern Conference?

It's a perplexing question for players and coaches in the league, who must deal with the travel, crazed campus fans and whistle-happy officials.

"If you catch a team when they are having a down year, maybe they are not as good at home because the atmosphere is not the same," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said.

Even then, winning away from home in the league is something to be savored. Road teams went 24-72 (.250) in the league last season and are 10-24 (.294) so far this season.

Both ranked and unranked teams have had issues away from home early this season. No. 7 Tennessee suffered its lone loss in conference play at Kentucky. No. 19 Vanderbilt is 0-3 on the road, with losses at Kentucky and Florida. And No. 24 Mississippi suffered a 20-point loss at rival Mississippi State last Saturday.

"Obviously, their crowd became a factor," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.

Where are the toughest places to play on the road in the SEC?

"It depends on who is winning a lot of games at the time," LSU coach John Brady said. "Since I've been here I've always enjoyed the Arkansas environment. Those people drive long distances to the games even during weekday games and that's not the easiest place to get to. Florida has always been difficult. People surprise you sitting right behind you on the bench."

Vanderbilt presents probably the most unique challenge in the league because the opposing benches at Memorial Gym are stationed underneath the basket. That makes it difficult for coaches to relay offensive signals to teams when they are shooting at baskets on the other end of the floor.

Since Stallings was hired in 2000, the Commodores are 104-30 at home.

"When Kevin has got it going like he does this season, that's an extremely difficult place to play," Brady said.

Stallings, meanwhile, lists Kentucky's Rupp Arena among the toughest places to play on an annual basis.

"Kentucky, Florida and Arkansas have been the three most difficult places to play since I've been in the league," Stallings said.

Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said Florida ranks as the toughest road environment.

"The location of the students, the seating arrangement, puts them right on top of you," Gottfried said.

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