Second Women's BB Scouting Report: Florida

The Vanderbilt Commodores were unable to do anything against Kentucky or South Carolina -- there's no shame in that. Most teams will walk away in defeat after playing the Wildcats and Gamecocks. Now, the challenge for VU is to take care of three teams outside the top 100 in the RPI. If Vanderbilt can win its next three games, the March 1 finale versus Tennessee might mean something.


The hour grows late for Vanderbilt women’s basketball in 2015. An additional signature win over the past week – against either Kentucky or South Carolina – would have transformed VU’s profile and put the Commodores in the NCAA tournament conversation. After all, an Arkansas team VU defeated – and which stands at 5-7 in the SEC – is projected by ESPN bracketologist Charlie Crème as being in the field of 64 teams. The SEC is projected to have eight teams in the field, including two teams that are 5-7 in the conference (Georgia being the other one). Had Vanderbilt beaten either Kentucky or South Carolina, it would also be 5-7 in the league. Its RPI would be higher than 41, and its resume would look at lot different. As it is, VU is very much on the outside looking in as far as the NCAAs are concerned.

All this team can do is go about the business of winning its next three games, all against 100-plus RPI foes. If VU can steady the ship and win three straight heading into that March 1 game against Tennessee, the Dores could create one more moment of profound significance and excitement this season. Naturally, Vanderbilt can’t win these next three games in one fell swoop, but the journey to this modest and immediate goal begins tonight against Florida. The Commodores would love to enter their last regular-season SEC game with a 7-8 conference mark, giving them a chance to rise to .500. Grand aspirations have to be set aside. Vanderbilt just wants a chance to do something significant this season. The window of opportunity is very narrow… but it still exists, provided this team can make the next week count.

The foremost task for Vanderbilt on the court is to limit turnovers. This has been a nagging problem, and it was in evidence the last time this team played Florida two and a half weeks ago, on Feb. 1 in Memorial Gym. The Dores coughed up 20 turnovers against the Gators, and they were similarly careless with the ball against South Carolina, giving the ball away 22 times. They allowed 25 giveaways against Kentucky. Someway and somehow, coach Melanie Balcomb needs to see her players value the ball to an extent not seen over the past week and a half. If Vanderbilt can tighten up its game – but not be emotionally tight near the end of a long and trying season – this team might be able to create one last pleasant surprise this winter.

FLORIDA AT-A-GLANCE

The Gators are 1-2 since they last met Vanderbilt, but they’ve played tough teams. Florida played Tennessee close at home but fell short. Coach Amanda Butler’s team won at Georgia in a ferocious defensive battle. The Gators then lost steam on defense and were picked apart by Texas A&M. This team didn’t play poorly so much as its lack of resources relative to other teams in the SEC was exposed. The Gators hope to right themselves against Vandebilt, and given their success the last time they faced the Dores, they have a right to feel confident about their chances.

A few details are worth noting about the last Florida-Vanderbilt meeting: Vanderbilt attained a plus-10 margin on the offensive glass, 15-5, but could not translate that reality into a particularly high shooting percentage (41 percent from the floor). VU forced 21 turnovers from the Gators, but didn’t translate those miscues into a large quantity of points. The Dores also made only three 3-pointers, part of a recent pattern in which this team isn’t making or attempting very many long shots. This has cut into the team’s offensive production and has to be dealt with in due time. Florida – not a group with a lot of gifted scorers – was able to shoot 52 percent from the field and outpace VU’s defense when the Gators didn’t commit turnovers. VU has so much it can correct in this contest. We’ll see if the Dores can execute with precision this time around.

Starting Lineup

Forward – Ronni Williams – Sophomore, 6-0; 2014-15: 9.8 ppg, 5 rpg

Florida’s starting five has undergone a few revisions since the last meeting between these teams. Williams replaces Haley Lorenzen, who averages 7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Williams’ scoring and rebounding averages are virtually unchanged relative to the last time these teams met.

Forward – Brooke Copeland –
Freshman, 6-2; 2014-15: 5.4 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game

Copeland’s scoring and rebounding averages have also barely budged since the Feb. 1 encounter between these teams. Florida played two rough-and-tumble games against Tennessee and Georgia before getting smoked by Mississippi State, so you shouldn’t see a dramatic statistical turn in most of the Gators’ individual profiles.

Forward/Guard – Kayla Lewis – Senior, 6-0; 2014-15: 9.4 ppg, 7 rpg

Lewis is a tricky case study for Vanderbilt. Her overall season averages haven’t changed over the past two and a half weeks, but she was the star of Florida’s win in Memorial Gym. She hit 8 of 10 shots en route to 18 points. If one player needs to be locked down tonight, Lewis is it.

Guard – Carlie Needles – Junior, 5-6; 2014-15: 8.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.1 assists per game

This is the player Vanderbilt was supposed to contain in the first Gator-Commodore clash, and VU actually did that, hounding Needles into 3-of-9 shooting from the field. Yet, Lewis’ unexpectedly big game is what ambushed the Dores. Let’s see if VU can straitjacket Needles for a second time this season. It would rate as a significant accomplishment.

Guard – Cassie Peoples – Junior, 5-6; 2014-15: 9.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 4.1 assists per game

This is the other main change in the Gators’ starting five. Peoples replaces Dyandria Anderson, who is now a reserve and averages 2.4 points per game. Peoples remains the main distributor and facilitator of UF’s offense. Vanderbilt has to make it difficult for her to set up teammates for good shots.

Bench

In the process of mentioning Florida’s starter-reserve switches, you’ve met Ronni Williams and Dyandria Anderson. Two other prime reserves are January Miller and Carla Batchelor. Miller averages 7.4 points and 3.2 boards per game. Batchelor chips in with 2.3 points per game.

Keys to the Game

1) Turnovers.
It’s too pervasive and pronounced a problem for it to be ignored or diminished. Vanderbilt must confront the turnover demon head-on and fix it, especially on the road. There isn’t much of a point in trying to look elsewhere for a primary game key.

2) Lock down Lewis. While VU was busy containing Needles on Feb. 1, Lewis busted loose. This is likely to be a defense-dominated game, so Vanderbilt has to close down on every Florida shooter. Lewis has earned her place at the top of VU’s defensive priority list tonight.

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