That big lead grew a little more, and with six minutes left in the first half, Jasmine Jenkins' jumper as the shot clock was about to expire gave the Dores a 16-point lead at 21-5, which turned out to be their biggest lead of the game.
At that point, Alabama was shooting 13% from the field. But then, they began to make some shots. Vanderbilt still held a healthy 15-point lead at 28-13 with 3:06 left in the first half, but then a 7-0 run by the Crimson Tide cut the lead to eight points. At the very end of the half, it looked like Vanderbilt would enjoy a 10-point halftime lead at 32-22, but an Alabama basket with 3 seconds left trimmed the lead to 32-24.
The second half picked up where the first half left off. Alabama continued to edge steadily closer. A minute into the half, they cut the lead to six. At the 13:33 Hannah Cook's third 3-pointer of the game cut the Vanderbilt lead to just three points at 39-36, and the Crimson Tide completed the comeback a couple of minutes later on a free throw by Nikki Hegsletter to tie the score at 39-39. Less than a minute later another pair of free throws gave the Crimson Tide their first lead of the game at 41-39 with 10:09 left in the game.
Fortunately for Vanderbilt, their first lead turned out to be their last. Paris Kea knocked down a pair of free throws to tie the game, then Maqu'es Webb muscled up a layup to put the Dores back on top at 43-41 with 9:10 left in the game. For the next five minutes, Vanderbilt was able to maintain a 3 to 5 point lead, and when the lead grew to 7 points at 53-46 with 2:44 on a basket by Kristen Gaffney, Vanderbilt fans in attendance began to breathe a little easier.
But the drama wasn't yet over, drama that played out on the free throw line.
With a minute left, Alabama had cut the lead to four points at 53-49. The Crimson Tide's Meoshonti Knight was fouled, but missed both free throws. But before Vanderbilt fans could finish their collective sighs of relief, Ashley Williams grabbed the rebound and put it back to cut the Vanderbilt lead to two points at 53-51 with 52 seconds left. Vanderbilt missed a couple of free throws but dodged a couple of bullets when Alabama missed a couple of shots, but a foul by Jenkins sent Nikki Hegstetter to the line, where she made one of two free throws to cut the lead to one point at 53-52 with 14 seconds left.
It was truly squeaky bum time for Vanderbilt. Alabama had to foul, and the ball was in Paris Kea's hands. She stepped to the line, knocked down the two free throws to increase the lead to three points at 55-52 with 10 seconds left. Alabama wasn't able to get off a shot until the final buzzer, and when the shot bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded, Vanderbilt fans could finally finish their sighs of relief.
With the victory, Vanderbilt improves to 12-8 overall, 3-4 in the SEC. Next Vanderbilt travels to Starkville for a rematch with Mississippi State on Thursday night. Then the Dores return home for a three-game home stand, beginning with Florida on Sunday afternoon.
Rayte'a Long and Kendall Shaw
Christa Reed, Rachel Bell, Heather Bowe
Photos copyright 2015 by Whitney D. for VandyMania.com