The Commodores jumped out to an 11-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game, with Vanderbilt connecting on six of its first seven shots from the field. The Lady Tigers missed nine of their first ten shots.
But Vandy couldn't sustain that torrid pace, and Memphis began to settle down. A 3-pointer by Devin Necaise cut the Commodore lead to 6 points at 15-9 with twelve minutes left in the first half.
The Lady Tigers began pressing and continued to do so for almost the remainder of the game, testing the young Vanderbilt backcourt. Under the pressure, the Vandy offense occasionally sputtered, but the Commodore defense kept Memphis at bay.
Throughout most of the rest of the first half, the Commodore lead hovered around ten points. With five minutes left in the half, a couple of more 3-pointers from Necaise trimmed the lead back to six points at 26-20, and the partisan crowd of 1,837 started to get loud.
But a jumper by Hillary Hager as the shot clock was winding down, a steal by Ashley Earley, and an offensive rebound and a putback Jenni Benningfield quickly restored the Vanderbilt lead to ten at 30-20. Memphis never cut the lead to single digits again, and when the halftime buzzer sounded, the Commodores held their biggest lead of the first half at 36-22.
As it turned out, Memphis would never come any closer. A basket by Hager gave the Commodores a 20-point lead at 44-24 at the 16:16 mark. When Memphis cut the lead to 16 points with 13 minutes left, Hager answered with a 3-pointer, and an Earley foul shot restored the lead to 20 points at 51-31. For the rest of the game, the Vanderbilt lead hovered around 25 points, and when time expired, the Commodores had won by a 24-point margin at 73-49.
Once again, Vanderbilt's veterans led the charge. Hager led all scorers with a career high 25 points. Earley, playing before friends and family in her hometown, notched her third double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Benningfield added 15 points and 7 boards. Dee Davis dished out 5 assists, while Hager and Benningfield had 4 each.
Devin Necaise was leading scorer for Memphis with 12 points, on 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. No other Lady Tiger scored in double figures. Megan Gooch led Memphis in rebounding with 6, and Princess Swilley had 5 assists.
Vanderbilt improved to 7-0 for the season, while Memphis fell to 6-1. Next action for the Commodores is a 2 p.m. matchup Saturday in Memorial Gym vs. Weber State.
After the game, VandyMania talked with Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb and senior captains Hillary Hager and Jenni Benningfield about the game.
VM: Could you talk about the positives that you saw in the game?
Coach BalcombI think the biggest positive is that we have a different mentality this year that's really impressive, and that's our defense. We're taking the things away that we're telling them to in our game plan. They're taking our scouting reports to heart, and if we miss a shot, or if we don't execute, or if we turn it over, our offense doesn't dictate what our defense does. We go back, and we play even better defense. In the past, our mentality was dictated by our offense. If we didn't shoot well, we didn't go down and play defense well because we were too upset about our offense. Now the focus is on our defense, and that's why we're a better team right now. Our mentality is better.
VM: You held No. 34 to 2-of-16 shooting from the floor. Was that part of your focus for the game?
Coach Balcomb: Yes, definitely. She was a big key. I think she's very, very good. I think she can get hot. If you look at their stats, and the information we gave them about all her 3's, if you cut out all her 3's, you're going to limit them to drives and pullups and things that can't hurt you as much. So we really wanted to shut her down first of all.
VM: They pressed a lot. Was that something you were expecting to see?
Coach Balcomb: Yes. We knew they'd press the whole game, four different presses. What was surprising at halftime was we were more concerned about turning the ball over in the backcourt, and we were attacking the pressure just the way we wanted to. I was very impressed with our press breaker. We took our time, we ball-faked, we bounce-passed, everything we taught. Then we'd get in halfcourt, and we took shots we shouldn't have, we made passes we shouldn't have. We had trouble going fast to slow. And that's hard to do against a team like this. Once we got across halfcourt, that's where our turnovers were. I talked about that at halftime.
VM: You got out to a big lead, and had your starters in the game most of the time. Could you talk about the reasoning that goes into that?
Coach Balcomb:: I think we had to. I don't think this game was ever over. I never felt like it was over. This was a 6-0 team, a great crowd, a very explosive team that was going to press, and I basically needed players on the court that were confident enough to handle that pressure, or it could have turned around really quickly. And I also want those guys in in many end-game situations, especially in a gym where you have a loud crowd on an away court, end of game situation where we have to stop certain things to make sure we win, take care of the ball, all those things. I thought with the way they pressure, I thought it was really important that they be in it at the end of the game.
VM: Hillary, what did you see as good things about this game?
Hillary: I think we handled the press very well. It started off a little bit shaky. I think we had like 12 turnovers at the half, but I think we ended up handling it very well. Our young guards and our post players did a good job handling it, and we went fast to break pressure, and we went slow in the halfcourt.
VM: Handling the pressure is something you've been working on this week?
Jenni: I think another positive thing is that our keys --
VM: What were the keys?
Jenni: Well, they had to do with transition D, checking out, rebounding, handling the pressure, running our transition. I think our defense-- coach summed it up in the locker room, we really take pride in defense. We're really focusing on defense. We're not worrying about offense. Defense leads to offense, and we had to do that against a good team like this, especially at their home, and I think we handled the pressure. We had a time at the beginning of the first half, where we were a little shaky, like Hill said, but as young as we were at the guards, I think they handled very very well. it's awesome.
VM: When you come to a court like this with that huge mural of a tiger up here, does that in any way effect your shooting, or does it become invisible after a while?
Hillary: it's pretty much invisible. When we first walk in, we practiced here yesterday and shot around this morning, we were like, whoa what's the big thing on the wall. But that doesn't matter. Your mind's on the court.
Jenni: Most of the time you don't notice anything but what's actually on the court.
VM: This was Ashley's homecoming game. Does that make it special? Can you talk about that?
Jenni: Every game's got to be important anyway, but I think we took this a little more to heart in that it is Ashley's homecoming, and we didn't want anything to happen like in Louisville it did to me last year, so I took it kind of personal, too. We wanted to show what Vanderbilt's all about in front of her friends and familiy. But every game has got to be important, leading up to March.