"This is our fifth game in a row that we've come out with an early lead," said Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb. "It's something we've been working on, coming out strong, especially on the road. We wanted to play really aggressive - come out and trap and dictate the game. We had 27 points off turnovers and I think that was really good. One of our keys was not to turn the ball over and let them (MSU) get the turnovers."
Despite MSU controlling the tip, the 'Dores scored on a Carla Thomas steal and lay-up 15 seconds into the game. Vanderbilt never relinquished that lead and controlled the game from that point.
The Commodores continually changed their defensive looks. As a result, Mississippi State never could establish any offensive rhythm. Even though the Lady Bulldogs got the Commodores into early foul trouble, several times it appeared the MSU got frustrated with foul calls, which affect the MSU shooting and defense.
"They were in a match-up zone and we weren't moving the ball," MSU guard Alexis Rack said. "We were just standing to one side and we just needed to move the ball more and penetrate more."
"We turned the ball over a lot," added sophomore guard Marneshia Richard. "They were getting in the passing lanes and making us rush. We just had to slow ourselves down and play our game."
MSU turned the ball over 15 times in the first half, resulting in 20 Vandy points. State made just 5 of 21 shots from the field in the first half (23.8 percent) and that included going 2 for 9 (22.2 percent) from three-point land. Conversely, Vanderbilt made 14 of 30 shots from the field in the first half (46.7 percent) and was 5 from 12 behind the arc. State forced just six VU turnovers in the first half, and those resulted in just 3 MSU points.
Compounding the MSU woes was Imesia Jackson who played just 13 minutes due to foul trouble. She fouled out with over eight minutes left in the game, and scored just two points and had two rebounds in the contest.
"She is a big part of this team," said Richard about Jackson's absence. "When she's in the game she's fighting, scrapping, hustling and getting a lot of rebounds for us. She provides a lot of energy for the team and without her our intensity level wasn't there."
Once Vanderbilt had a 15-point lead, the game settled down with MSU drawing no closer than 12 points. That caused the Lady Bulldogs to be tentative and in some cases appeared nervous when they got a chance to cut the difference to 10 or fewer points. As a result, MSU let the shot clock expire, or not battle for the offensive rebound.
"When you get within 12 points, you can't give up a three," Fanning said. "You can't turn the basketball over. That's what happened tonight. We'll learn from this, put it behind us and get ready for the next game."
The experienced Commodores dominated the inside scoring with 36 points in the paint, compared to just 18 for MSU. VU got 24 points and 52 minutes from their bench.
"We didn't play as well down low as we wanted to," Balcomb stated. "We have a really good low-post game and three very capable post players. This is the deepest we've been, which was very important when we got in early foul trouble. We didn't let up at all, or give up the lead, I think all the players that came in did a good job off the bench."
Balcomb did not need much help from her bench as Caroline Williams made a statement for SEC player of the week. The senior guard, who ranks first in the conference and second in the nation in three-point field-goal percentage (.486) was 6 of 12 from behind the 3-point line and perfect in her four free attempts.
"Caroline knows how to shoot the ball," Fanning said. "You have to be ready to defend Caroline while the ball is in the air, because if you do not get there she is going to fire it up."
"We knew that she was a great shooter," Richard added. "We just had to try to contest her shots. There were a lot of screen staggers and flares for her. We had to be aggressive, but tonight was her night."
Richard led MSU in scoring with 15 points. Rack added 14 points. Tysheka Grimes scored 11 points. Lauren Roberts and Robin Porter came off the bench to score 10 points apiece. Rack and Roberts each had seven rebounds.
Mississippi State must regroup and get ready to host Mississippi on Sunday afternoon.
Andy Kalinowski, known on the internet as Andy K, writes about Mississippi State women's basketball for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. He can be reached by email at Andy_Kalinowski@yahoo.com.