The Lady Toppers, led by first year Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard, started the season 5-1 for the first time since the 2005-2006 season, including three wins in Sun Belt Conference play. After several years of dwindling attendance, WKU fans are starting to come back to Diddle Arena to see Coach Clark-Heard's scrappy never-say-die squad in action.
On Tuesday night the reported attendance was only 1,209, but whenever the Lady Toppers made a big play to take the lead, the noise level brought back memories of days of yore. In quieter moments, Western fans seated at court side did their part to create a hostile atmosphere by heckling players and helpfully offering advice and commentary to the officials.
Western scored the first basket of the game, but Vanderbilt answered immediately with a 3-pointer from Elan Brown. But that 3-pointer was also answered immediately when Chaney Means sank one of her own, resulting in a 5-3 lead for Western less than one minute into the game.
The fast and furious scoring slowed down a bit after that. Vanderbilt pulled ahead by five points on a 3-pointer by Kady Schrann and a little later equaled that lead at 22-17 on a layup by Tiffany Clarke with nine minutes left in the first half.
But after that, Clarke picked up her second foul and spent the rest of the half on the bench and soon afterwards, Brown also picked up a second foul and joined her on the sidelines. Soon afterwards, Western tied the game on a 3-pointer by Chastity Gooch, then took the lead following a Vanderbilt turnover.
From then on, the rest of the half was neck-and-neck, with three ties and several lead changes, with neither team managing to get ahead by more than two points. In the end, the Lady Toppers took a one-point lead into the locker room at 35-34.
Vanderbilt took the lead early in the second half on a driving layup by Foggie. But the see-saw battled continued, and with 17:03 left in the game, the two teams were tied at 43-43, the eighth tie of the game.
Then Vanderbilt took the lead on a jumper by Schrann. As it turned out, that lead would hold for the rest of the game, although it took a few minutes for the handwriting to appear on the walls. With 13:59 left in the game, a 3-pointer by Foggie gave the Dores a 6-point lead at 56-50, the biggest lead of the game to that point.
As it turned out, that basket was the beginning of a 10-0 Vanderbilt run. A 3-pointer by Jasmine Lister and two fast-break baskets following defensive rebounds by Brown and Clarke gave the Dores a 13-point lead at 63-50 with 11:49 left in the game.
Vanderbilt couldn't maintain that healthy double-digit lead, however, as the Lady Toppers cut the lead back to six points several times. With 1:35 left in the game, a basket by Gooch made it a two-possession game at 73-67.
Then Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb called timeout, and coming out of the timeout, Brown scored to give Vanderbilt an 8-point lead at 75-67. After that, Western was forced to foul, and Lister made both free throws to seal the Vanderbilt victory.
Besides the return to action of Foggie, one of the bright spots for Vanderbilt was a blistering 63% field goal percentage for the game. In the second half, the Dores sank their first eleven shots from the field and didn't miss a basket until the 12:15 mark. Other notable statistics were a double double from Lister with 13 points and 11 assists, and 13 rebounds by Brown.
On the negative side, first half foul trouble by both Brown and Clarke was problematic, but 22 turnovers for the game were the statistic that left Coach Balcomb shaking her head in frustration after the game.
With the victory, Vanderbilt improves to 6-3 on the season. Next action for the Dores will be Thursday night in Memorial Gym when Vanderbilt hosts the Hartford Hawks. The Hawks have been a frequent NCAA team under Coach Jen Rizotti and are 6-1 on the season. Game time is 7 p.m.
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Photos copyright 2012 by Whitney D. for VandyMania.com