The win earned the Commodores the right to face Louisville in the championship game Saturday at 3 p.m. CT. Coach Tom Collen's Cardinals held off a late Princeton comeback to win 68-61 in the second first-round game. Princeton and Samford meet in the consolation game at 1 p.m.
The Samford-Vanderbilt game stayed close for the first few minutes. Samford scored the first basket of the game to take a 2-0 lead, and a 3-pointer by Lindsay Harris gave the Bulldogs a 5-2 lead one minute into the game.
But an old-fashioned three-point play by Ashley Earley tied the score. Then Jenni Benningfield scored five straight points, scoring two on an inbounds play, then hitting a 3-pointer as the trailer on a fast break to give the Commodores a 10-5 lead.
Samford briefly cut the lead back to two points at 10-8 on a 3-pointer by Alex Munday, but Dee Davis banked in a 3-pointer to ignite a 15-3 Vanderbilt run.
With 7:29 left in the first half, Vanderbilt led 28-11. The Commodore lead widened to 19 points at 34-15 with 3:52 left in the half after a pair of Nicole Jules free throws.
But the well went suddenly dry for Vanderbilt, which didn't score for the remainder of the half. Meanwhile a couple of Vanderbilt turnovers led to consecutive 3-point baskets by Samford. The lead shrank to 34-21, and a Samford free throw cut the margin at 34-22 at halftime.
Jenni Benningfield's second 3-pointer of the game pushed the lead back to 15 early in the second half. Chelsey Insell answered on the other end, but that was as close as Samford would come the rest of the game.
The Commodore lead reached 20 midway through the second half at 53-33, and grew to as high as 27 before Coach Melanie Balcomb emptied the bench. Every able-bodied Commodore saw action. With the reserves on the floor, Samford was able to chip away at the Vanderbilt lead and cut the margin to 67-50 at the final buzzer.
Three Commodores scored in double figures, led by Benningfield with 18, Davis with 14, and Stringfield with 10. Earley, Benningfield, and Davis each had 5 rebounds. Davis had 7 assists in the game with no turnovers. Davis and Katie Antony each had 3 steals.
Lindsey Harris led Samford with 16 points, followed by Alex Munday's 10. Morgan Vickory was leading rebounder for the Bulldogs with 6.
Vanderbilt shot 45.6% from the field, 54.5% from 3-point range, to Samford's 41.5% / 40.9%. Rebounds were even at 31-31.
The Commodores had a dramatic edge in turnovers with only 11, while Samford had 25, resulting in 28 points for Vanderbilt. The Commodores dominated the inside with 36 points in the paint, compared to only 8 for Samford.
Photos of No. 15 Venessa Ferragamo, No. 3 Cherish Stringfield, and No. 23 Jenn Hall by Whitney D for VandyMania.com. Click on thumbnails to view larger image.