Vandy to test road success at Georgia

It's often said about Vanderbilt that no matter the pre-season or early SEC struggles, the Commodores know how to win down the stretch. In recent weeks, as Vanderbilt's home record grew to 12-0 and 15-7 overall, the team is finding its rhythm, and just in time to face the SEC's top two teams – Georgia on Thursday and Tennessee on Sunday.

On a three-game streak, Vanderbilt's squad overcame LSU's league-leading defense 55-50 and drove their heels in to win Sunday's double-overtime tug of war on the road against Florida 103-97.

Coming off the bench, Stephanie Holzer, the 6-4 center from Newton Square, Pa., earned this week's SEC Player of the Week honors for two back-to-back 23-point games against LSU and Florida. The forceful freshman battled on both ends of the court, making 64.5 percent of her shots for the week and averaging 6 rebounds per game. Only her propensity to foul limits her minutes – she has fouled out four times in the 19 games she has played, including the first overtime period in Florida's 50-minute marathon.

She will face the SEC's Freshman of the Week, Georgia's Khaalidah Miller, when the two teams collide this Thursday at 6 p.m. CST in Athens. The game will be televised by CSS. Georgia (18-5, 8-2), second in SEC at 8-2, is 5-0 at home in SEC play. Miller is averaging 15.5 points from the field at 61.6 percent, and is 54.5 percent in 3-point shooting.

Some Georgia locals may be looking at entirely different players – Vandy's Elan Brown, a Duluth, Ga., native, Atlanta's Tiffany Clarke and former Georgia standout Angela Puleo, the Maryville, Tenn., guard who transferred after her sophomore year with the Lady Bulldogs. For all three, it will be their first time to represent Vandy in Athens.

Last season, Vanderbilt faced Georgia in Nashville, and iced the No. 6 Lady Bulldogs 66-44, as Tiffany led the ‘Dores with 14 points and a game-high 8 rebounds.

Fresh from a 23-point, 13-rebound effort at Florida, Tiffany was also credited with two blocks and two steals in 32 minutes of play after making her fourth start on the road. As the sophomore post recognizes, her focus has improved, she is relaxed and playing perhaps her best ball after easing up on self-imposed pressure. She expects to see a large number of family, friends from high school and her former AAU team, the Metros, which also fielded Elan on the squad, may be attending as well.

"Our team needed a really good road win and it felt so good," Tiffany said. "Of course we didn't want it to go into double overtime, but we worked really hard for it. All the work and preparation we've been doing for so long, is beginning to show in what we can do."

Tiffany explains her slow start this year as trying to measure up to expectations from a good freshman season. "Last year I played more free. I was a freshman so I wasn't afraid to make a mistake and this year, I thought since I left the previous season on a good note and I needed to continue to do that. I put a lot of pressure on myself, which was not a good idea. Coach said I just needed to play my game and I got my confidence back, especially after our bye week. That's when it returned, but better late than never."

Angela Puleo is also putting good minutes together. The sharpshooter nailed six 3-pointers for a 20-point game against Ole Miss on January 30. Although shut down defensively by LSU and held to one three-pointer, she played 45 minutes in Florida's double overtime, and hit a 3-point shot in the second OT to keep Vandy ahead for the win.

"I'm adapting to my role a lot better and just getting more comfortable in the Vanderbilt system," Angela said. "It's a total team effort. Everybody is bringing their game and if we can continue to do that, we can make a big run at the end of the year."

The guard's Georgia past is well behind her, but she is excited to visit with friends from her former school and players she once called teammates. That aside, her attention is focused on defeating an SEC foe that's ranked second in the league.

"It's a huge SEC game for us. I'm just excited to see if we can continue playing good basketball. I'm hoping we can bring that to Athens as well."

Angela attributes Vandy's recent success to a team that's learned how to play with new talent, not to mention putting the pieces of Head Coach Melanie Balcomb's system in the right order.

"I enjoy it because she's a coach who is offense-minded. It's every player's dream. But it's more of our team meshing together because we have a lot of new faces this year. We have Steph [Holzer] and everybody jelling and Jasmine [Lister] is playing great. We're all getting a feel for each other and we're really starting to mesh in addition to getting Coach Balcomb's plays."

After travel to Georgia, Vandy will regroup to face Tennessee. The 5 p.m. Sunday matchup is a sellout but it will be televised on ESPNU. Vandy's all-time leading scorer and former WNBA star Chantelle Anderson will be recognized at halftime when her jersey will be retired.



Tiffany Clarke and Angela Puleo look to the sidelines.

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