Balanced Vandy attack downs Weber State, 73-47

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt used a balanced scoring attack to defeat the Weber State Wildcats 73-47 Saturday afternoon in Memorial Gym. Four Commodores scored in double figures, led by Ashley Earley (14), Jenni Benningfield ( (13), Hillary Hager (10), and freshman forward Carla Thomas (10). Freshmen guards Caroline Williams and Dee Davis chipped in 9 and 8 points, respectively.

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt used a balanced scoring attack to defeat the Weber State Wildcats 73-47 Saturday afternoon in Memorial Gym.

Four Commodores scored in double figures, led by Ashley Earley (14), Jenni Benningfield ( (13), Hillary Hager (10), and freshman forward Carla Thomas (10). Freshmen guards Caroline Williams and Dee Davis chipped in 9 and 8 points, respectively.

The first half was a story of alternating runs. After Vanderbilt took a 1-0 lead on a free throw by Benningfield, Weber State's Julie Gjertsen sank a 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a 3-1 lead. Vanderbilt reeled off an 8-0 run, including two fast-break layups by Davis, to give the Commodores a 9-3 lead at the 16:58 mark.

But then the Vanderbilt offense stalled, and over the next five minutes, the Commodores didn't score a single field goal. Two free throws by Davis were the only points Vanderbilt put on the board during the drought. In the meantime, Weber State crept back into the game, and another 3-pointer from Gjertsen brought the Wildcats within a point at 11-10 with 12:06 left.

It was defense that got Vanderbilt going again. Davis stole the ball, went the length of the court, was fouled as she sank the layup, and hit the free throw. Steals by Carla Thomas and Katie Antony resulted in points on the other end, and a basket by Ashley Earley capped off the 9-0 run to put Vanderbilt up 20-10 with 7:11 left in the half.

A little 7-2 run by Weber State cut the lead down to 5 points at 27-22 with 2:30 left. But a 7-0 all-Benningfield run, including two baskets off fast breaks, gave Vandy a 34-22 lead at the intermission.

In the second half the Commodores showed more consistency. A 17-4 run, highlighted by a 3-pointer and a fast-break layup by freshman Caroline Williams for her first points as a Commodore, gave Vanderbilt a commanding 51-26 lead with 11:23 left in the game. Melanie Balcomb substituted freely from that point on, with all available players getting to play. When the dust settled, the Commodores emerged with a 73-47 victory.

Katie Antony dished out six assists. Dee Davis and Hager had 3 steals each.

Julie Gjertsen was the only Wildcat in double figures with 10 points. Angela Sampson was leading rebounder with 5.

For the third straight game, Vanderbilt shot better than 50% for the field, while holding opponents under 40%. The Commodores connected on 57.1% of their field goals, including 55.6% from 3-point range, while the Wildcats shot 36%, including 4 of 23 (17.4%) from 3-point range. Vanderbilt led the battle of the boards 32-25 and had fewer turnovers, with 16 compared to 18 for Weber State.

Vanderbilt gets an eight-day break before a Dec. 21 road game at the University of St. Louis. After a few days off for the Christmas holidays, the Commodores travel to the Gatorade Holiday Classic in Miami Dec. 28-29. The next home game is Fan Appreciation Day, vs. Syracuse Jan. 2.


Coach Balcomb: I think the big thing tonight is that hopefully you saw two different halves. That's what I saw. I saw a team that played very flat in the first half, and I wasn't impressed with our play, our effort, or anything at halftime. And in the second half, I think we changed a lot of things. We played much more inspired. Our effort was much better, and we did a much better job defensively. We went straight man and played much better defensively and also shared the basketball better on offense. I was really pleased with how they came back after halftime.

The Press: Freshmen scored 33 of the 73 points today. It seems like it's a different person every time.

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, it is. Because they're young, it's inconsistent. So tonight, it was Carla and Caroline that came in and did a great job. It's nice to add her to the mix because she is a good 3-point shooter and athletic at the same time, and I've been able to play her a couple of minutes each game. And then tonight, I gave her an opportunity early in the second half along with Carla. I went with two different people to mix things up because I wasn't happy with what was going on in the first half. They both played very inspired and played very hard and played very well. I think Katie Antony played well all game and worked very very hard all game. So I was real pleased with those three freshmen. I think Katie is really starting to read the game and understand. Especially in the break she made some good decisions at the point.

The Press: The score is similar to the game at Memphis. How were the games similar and how were they different?

Coach Balcomb: Well, it was different because these two teams are opposite. Those teams pressured the ball in full court and created havoc and chaos, and we needed to settle down. This game, their tempo, they wanted for the game to be slower and more methodical, and we tried to create havoc and tried to press and trap and get them in a more up-tempo. We didn't want to play in a slowdown game. So what's really different is that we were trying to create a whole different tempo. We were trying to slow down at Memphis, and we were trying to go faster here.

And it's hard. You play New Orleans, and it's all fast and pressure. And then you play Duquesne, and it's slow. Then you go back and you play Memphis, and it's fast. We're telling them "It's going to be like the Duquesne game, don't think back to Memphis." It's been a good challenge for our maturity level as far as every team's doing something different to us, and it's a good experience to just have those freshmen out there as much as I can.

The Press: Will it continue to be the case that the way you play depends on what the other team is doing, or will it get to a point where you do what you do, regardless of what they're doing?

Coach Balcomb: Well, in Memphis we still wanted to attack in the backcourt, really take the pressure off, and we really wanted to attack and be aggressive. But, yeah, I'm hoping that we'll be good enough to keep going fast in a different way. Right now, until the second half tonight, we hadn't really executed when we had numbers. We hadn't executed well at all. Our 2 on 1s, our 3 on 2s, when you saw us in the first half, we were knocking people over and making poor decisions, and that's because you have young people with the ball in their hands that haven't had to make these decisions before, so I just didn't think we were ready. So in the halfcourt, I wanted to slow down against Memphis. Eventually, yeah, I will want to attack all the time and let them make those decisions. And that's what I saw in the second half. I thought Katie read when there was a 2-on-1. She read when there was a 1-on-1, she read when there was a 4-on-2. She made some very good decisions in the break that showed a lot of progress hopefully in our transition.

The Press: At one point after Dee Davis left the game, the trainer was looking at her ankle. Is she hurt?

Coach Balcomb: I don't know, he's looking at it now. She was definitely suffering out there and was favoring her foot. You'll have to ask him; I'm not sure it's an ankle.

The Press: Weber State's record was 1-5 coming into the game. I thought they looked better than a 1-5 team. Do you think they're a better team than that?

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, I think they were. I think they were very well-coached. I think they did very good things against our offenses and were very prepared, and I thought they made good decisions on what to do to us, especially in the post, pushing us out and doubling down. And I also felt like they were very fundamental and could shoot the 3 at pretty much every position but the post players, so yeah, I thought they were a lot better than their record.

The Press: Their field goal percentage makes this look like one of the best defensive games you've had. Would you comment on that?

Coach Balcomb: I thought we played horrible defense in the first half, and that's why we went straight man in the second because I was very unhappy with our matchup and our effort and our checkout. I think they finished the first half with 11 offensive rebounds, and I didn't think that we did a good job on that. And when you're in man, you're more accountable for checking out your player than you are in a zone. I also thought our man was okay, but I didn't think we communicated well enough, and I think we fouled too much. I think we still need to get a lot better at our defense. We didn't get away with playing the matchup, we had to play them on man because we were giving up wide open 3's in the matchup. We have to be able to play that against 3-point shooting teams as well as driving teams.

Coach Balcomb left, and junior forward Ashley Earley and freshman guard Caroline Williams came in.

The Press: Caroline, you came into the game and hit a couple of big shots. Can you talk about how that felt?

Caroline: It feels awesome. It's a great feeling to get in there, get in a rhythm, and actually hit a couple of shots just to feel comfortable and confident, especially hitting the first shot. It feels good. It's exciting. It's a lot of fun to get in there and feel good about yourself, and they got me some open shots, and they were good shots to take, and they went in.

The Press: Ashley, would you talk about the difference in the two halves?

Ashley: In the first half, I think we had a problem with sharing the ball. I think we weren't executing our offenses. A lot of times we were just taking the first shot, which was a quick shot and many times wasn't a good shot. I think on defense we were kind of playing complacent. I think that was the difference in the second half. I think we came out with a lot more intensity.

The Press: As you watch this team, it's like a different freshman steps up every game. Can you talk about them?

Ashley: The freshmen are really coming along. They're good. They're flat-out good. And they want to be good. They work hard every day to get better. That's something we see every day in practice. We see them working hard, and the games are just the result of their hard work everyday.

Caroline: And we just want to work hard for them, and we want to win -- win in March.

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