Commodores sink UNO 75-58, improve to 5-0

Vanderbilt's women's team committed an unsightly 22 turnovers, but nevertheless improved to 5-0 on the young season with a 75-58 victory over the New Orleans Privateers Thursday night at Memorial Gym. UNO fell to 3-1. Hillary Hager led the team in scoring with a career-high 22 points, while Ashley Earley added 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Vanderbilt's women's team committed an unsightly 22 turnovers, but nevertheless improved to 5-0 on the young season with a 75-58 victory over the New Orleans Privateers Thursday night at Memorial Gym. UNO fell to 3-1.

Both teams got off to a slow start. UNO missed their first four shots from the field, and the Commodores missed five of their first six shots. At the first media timeout, the score was only 4-2 in favor of Vanderbilt.

Coming out of the break, UNO tied it up at 4-4 on a basket by Jean Jimenez. But then Vanderbilt began to heat up. First Jenni Benningfield scored in the low block, then Hillary Hager scored 9 straight points. Another layup from Benningfield and freshman Jenn Hall's first 3-pointer as a Commodore gave Vanderbilt a 20-4 lead with 9:44 left in the first half.

As it turned out, that 16-0 run put the game out of reach for New Orleans. Three straight 3-pointers by the Privateers late in the first half briefly cut the lead back to single digits at 30-22. But Vanderbilt was able to stop the bleeding and took a 39-26 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Vanderbilt's lead never fell below double digits in the second half. With 10 minutes left in the game, the Privateers came within 12 points at 58-46. But then a 14-0 run gave the Commodores a 26-point lead, their biggest of the night, at 72-42.

With six minutes left in the game, Coach Melanie Balcomb removed her three veteran starters (Hager, Jenni Benningfield, and Ashley Earley) from the game. With a combination of freshmen and reserves on the floor for Vanderbilt in the final minutes, the Privateers were able to trim the lead to the final score of 75-56.

Hager led Vanderbilt in scoring with a career-high 22 points, followed by Earley (15), Benningfield (11), Katie Antony (9), and Hall (8). Earley led Vandy in rebounds with 10, followed by Benningfield with 9. Dee Davis and Hager each had 6 assists.

Jasmine Smiri was leading scorer for New Orleans with 15 points on five 3-pointers. Susan Griffee had 13, and Monique Taylor had 11.
For the game, Vanderbilt shot 46.6% (33.3% from 3-point range) from the field compared to 37.7% (29.6% from 3-point range) for New Orleans. The Commodores out-rebounded the Privateers 42-28. Constant pressure by the New Orleans guards forced 22 Vanderbilt turnovers, but the Privateers turned by the ball over 27 times themselves.

Next action for the Commodores is a 2 p.m. game on Saturday against Duquesne in Memorial Gym.

POST GAME COMMENTS

Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb: I think once again that it's really obvious that our defense is ahead of our offense. I think the positive is when we were man-to-man, we only gave up 5 points all night, and this is a very quick, athletic team, and we had not been able to do that against anybody earlier in the season. So I think we're getting better in our man defense, and we just have to do a better job on offense. Handling pressure--that was the first time a team had pressed us all game, and we have a lot of young guards, and I think we just need to learn from it and take care of the basketball.

The Press: Were the 22 turnovers a result of that?

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, and having young point guards, freshman point guards, and our 3-guard is bringing the ball up because she has the experience, and that's a situation of confidence. Hillary Hager never would have attempted to bring the ball up last year, but we need people that can handle the ball and bring it up. It's just game experience that our guards need to understand what we need to do.

The Press: The fact that she had the ball in her hands so much bringing it up, did that contribute to her offensive night tonight?

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, right now, Hillary is just so confident, I love watching her. I know we've been talking about her. I just told her, "Make sure that you don't stop doing the little things that you have always done." I said, "Hillary, I don't care if you score 30 points, you're in the zone, you can score all you want, but don't stop rebounding, setting screens, and playing defense the way you're doing." And she said, "I promise I won't stop doing the little things that I never get credit for." That was my conversation with her, and then I told her never to get tired. At halftime I said, "You're tired, you're coming out, we're going to sub a lot, except for Hillary, don't ever get tired," and they all laughed.

The Press: Talk about the play of Ashley Earley. It seems like she's really made some strides.

Coach Balcomb: Today it was really obvious that Ashley Earley and Hillary have improved a lot from last year and are a lot more confident players in what we're teaching, what we're doing, and just overall are ready to play at a higher level than they played last year on both ends of the floor. It's very very obvious. Ashley Earley wants the ball this year. She has confidence to shoot from the elbow, and she has confidence inside, and she's always been a great rebounder. I think she played tremendous tonight. What's nice is, it's a different person stepping up each night, and that's good. it's a relief. A coach wants to be so that we don't always have to count on the same person every night to step up.

The Press: Jenn Hall was in the rotation tonight. Can you talk about her?

Coach Balcomb: She's been working hard in practice. She was a little behind early on because of coming out of high school with an injury and being out of shape, and so she's been slowly working her way into the lineup. She works extremely hard in practice, and we wanted to give her some early minutes because of earning that in practice.

The Press: She gives you another dimension, also being a tall player who can shoot from the outside.

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, and that's why I recruited her. I thought she was a player that could play inside and out for us. She has 3-point range, and she can also post. She's an extremely skilled player. Again, it's just how long the transition takes. For each player, it's been different, the mental and physical transition from high school.

The Press: Coach, when the opposition is turning the ball over a lot, is it kind of symptomatic for a young team to fall into that, too?

Coach Balcomb: I hope so. (Laughs.) I hope it was because they were throwing it away. It got pretty chaotic there. I know what you're saying. I was just telling them to settle down and to slow down. And yes, I think with a young team, the faster they go, the faster you go, and then you start making turnovers. I think you could see we were out of control, off-balance.

But we executed our game plan -- to stop the drive, and to check out, and not to foul. That was our game plan. And we executed all three of those things, that were number one, two and three keys. And for a young team to execute those things so well-- at halftime, they hadn't gone to the free throw line yet. They hadn't taken a free throw. We had outrebounded them by over 10 boards. So at halftime, we just looked at everything and said we just have to continue to do the things that we had asked them to do in the scouting report, and that's what they did. That's a positive. It's just-- on the offensive end, it got very-- they had 11 players that were going to come in. They were very physical, very quick, trapping, doing different things, and freshmen aren't ready for it; they just go faster, and then they make mistakes.

The Press: You were up 25-8, and then they hit four 3-pointers and got it back to about 8. Was that a lapse defensively there, or were they just finding the openings?

Coach Balcomb: I think we did a better job in man. At halftime, they hadn't scored one time in our man. In our matchup we weren't doing a good job of figuring out who their shooters were. We had played No. 3-- I don't know if you know, but she was 0-for-16 coming into the game. And I had told my players that I did not like that. That hurts a coach, because I know percentages are going to be with her. She's obviously she's a good 3-point shooter; she had taken the most 3's of their team. And I said, so she's obviously good at it, and she better not get hot tonight, and when she did, I wasn't pleased with how we did not adjust in our matchup to really sit on her more. And then she hit five. She was due. You don't ever want to see that as a coach going into a game, and she proved me right.

The Press: Coach, you've been talking about this being a young team. At the rate you're going, do you think you'll be ready for SEC play?

Coach Balcomb: I don't want to look that far ahead, because we certainly weren't ready tonight. We're going to see that kind of pressure and athleticism, and we weren't ready for the SEC tonight. That's what the preseason's for, and I hope that we are when we get there.

The Press: What do you think the biggest improvements that need to be made?

Coach Balcomb: I think we need to handle the pressure. We need to know what defenses they are in, know when to slow it down, when to take quick shots, all special situations, and handling pressure. We've seen zone, we've seen sagging man, we've seen doubles from different people, different places, and tonight we saw pressure. So it's just experience. Every night somebody's doing something different to us, and our kids have got to play through those games and learn from those games.

The Press: They didn't do anything special to Jenni.

Coach Balcomb: No, they pressured our guards. Everybody else has been sagging, letting us catch, pressing our passing a little bit. This was the first team that got out and denied every pass and did not double down onto our posts. And our guards had trouble handling the pressure and kept putting the ball down on the floor and not protecting the ball and not getting it in to the post.

Coach Balcomb left, and senior guard Hillary Hager and junior forward Ashley Earley entered.

The Press: Hillary, can you talk about bringing up the ball against the press?

Hillary: Well, it wasn't really planned that way. It just kind of happened that they were denying it back to Dee or Katie, and that's just how it happened, and I think I need to work on that a little bit, bringing it up.

The Press: Do you talk to the guards and try to settle them down a little bit as the game progresses?

Hillary: Yeah, we're always talking and communicating on the floor, and I'm just trying to tell them where to be, what to do. It's not really like settling them down. They don't seem like they're really uptight or anything, but there's definitely communication happening all the time.

The Press: Ashley, can you talk about your progress since last year?

Ashley: Just learning the system, I guess. Last year I had that ACL tear that set me back a little bit and kind of learning a new position, just getting a lot of confidence, I think, coming into this year, teammates constantly encouraging me -- I think it all goes back to them. I'm just getting a whole lot more confidence.

Hillary: Can I comment on that? I just want to say that Ashley's back. This is the Ashley Earley that came in to Vanderbilt. Then she tore her ACL and then had another injury earlier this year, but this is Ashley. You guys just didn't know Ashley. (Laughter.)No, I'm serious. (Turning to Ashley). You're just being yourself.

Ashley: This helps me. (Laughter.)

The Press: Was this a tough game to play, with the way the ball was being handled by both teams in the first half, and all of New Orleans' guards coming outside and double-teaming, and you being in the post waiting for things to come to you. Was it a tough game to play?

Ashley: No, not necessarily. I think they did a good job of pressuring the ball. That was their game plan. I think we just have to do a better job of handling it. We do have a lot of young guards out there who aren't necessarily used to the pressure, and I just think it was a good learning experience. Hillary, as a senior, is a little more used to that pressure, and she was able to help us bring the ball up the court.

The Press: Was it a more physical game than you expected? You were on the receiving end of a little clip there.

Ashley: Yeah, that was pretty tough. That hurt. A lot. Yeah. But I don't think it was necessarily any more physical than an SEC game.

The Press: Was it more physical than any game you've played so far/

Ashley: I got hit harder than I did any other game that one time, but not really, I don't think.

The Press: What's it like being the elder statesmen on such a young team? How do you get the younger players going? There are a whole bunch of them.

Hillary: I don't think we really have to get them going, because they have a bunch of young energy, and they're always excited. But we have to talk to them a lot, like Ashley said, about handling the pressure, because that's the most pressure we've seen so far, and that's going to be more what it's like in the SEC, so I guess it's more talking to them like that, but they're always excited, as you can probably tell, on the floor and they give us energy I think. Not that we're mellow, but--

Ashley: They came in with a whole lot of enthusiasm and excitement for the season. You really don't have to get them up for the games. If anything, they're getting us up. We're kind of calm, and they're kind of getting us excited. They're fun.

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Photos of No. 24 Hillary Hager, No. 4 Katie Antony, No. 32 Ashley Earley, and Hager and Earley in the press conference by Whitney D for VandyMania.com. Click on thumbnails to view a larger image.

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