JOE BIDDLE: Vandy oozing with confidence

Vanderbilt University
Photo: WKRN

What a year a difference makes.

Vanderbilt is going to be a tough out if it continues to play with a heavy dose of confidence.

Where did it get that confidence you ask? They didn’t have it last year. I contend a needed coaching change has this team’s confidence rocking and rolling.

A lot of it had to come from first year coach Bryce Drew. They are a free flowing team whose players are not being skittish about making mistakes and getting yanked out of games like they were B.D. Before Drew.

Take senior guard Riley LaChance.

He won’t admit it publicly but his confidence vaporized over the last few seasons. Somehow the coaching change from Kevin Stallings to Drew has given LaChance a new lease on his basketball life.

LaChance doesn’t have to say it. You can see it in his body language. You can see it in how he plays.

He led the Commodores to a nail-biting overtime 72-62 win over the 2-seed Florida Gators Friday night. It marked the third straight win for Vanderbilt over the Gators.

LaChance tried to give his amount of preparation for the change.

“My teammates are also really confident in me. They do a good job of cheering me on and instilling confidence with me, and our coaches as well,’’ LaChance said.

“We have a free flowing offense. Confidence is instilled in everybody. I think that’s what goes into it.’’

No matter how confidence is instilled in athletes, they can’t pull off winning games like the one without it Friday night over Florida.

If the coaches put you down, verbally or otherwise, any amount of confidence you have will drain out of your body and mind.

LaChance was in a pressure cooker against the Gators. They pressed. They were quick to cut off cutting lanes. They were more athletic. But none of that bothered LaChance.

He hit six of his 12 shots from the floor and added four of seven 3-pointers, most of them with Florida players’ hands in his face.

Drew approached the change.

“Anytime you have some change in your life, you can react different ways. And it’s kind of been a progression throughout the year,’’ Drew said. “And it’s kind of been a progression throughout the year.’’

White went on to give his observation.

“I think that you can see it with body language. Just in my opinion as an evaluator of their team over the course of this year and how they’ve developed and when you compare it to last year,’’ he said.

“I think that’s a great microcosm of their overall confidence level and poise level is Riley LaChance. I’ve seen Riley LaChance rattled before. I’ve seen him not handle pressure before. And his growth and development as a player in that regards to me had probably rubbed off on other guys.’’

Kornet was a monster Friday night. He had a double-double, a dozen points and 10 rebounds. He had an assist, blocked a shot. He played a game high 44 minutes. He buried two left-handed baby hook shots in a row from the left hand block. It came in a time of the game where the Commodores needed a lift. Kornet provided.

Florida Coach Mike White gave credit to the Commodores.

Kornet captured White’s attention.

“The credit goes to (Kornet),’’ he said. “He is something else defensively and obviously as well when your entire scouting report resolves around how to defense a 7-1 guy that shoots it like a 2-guard.’’

Vanderbilt advances to the semifinals’ Saturday. They take on the winner of Friday’s nightcap, Arkansas and Ole Miss.

They are assured of making the NCAA Tournament’s 68-team field Sunday.

What a difference a year makes.

Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at joebiddle11@gmail.com.