Before leaving on the holiday break, the Commodores traveled to St. Louis, Mo., and disposed of the SLU Billikens 71-56, as junior Ashley Earley scored a career-high 22 points to go along with nine rebounds. Senior forward Jenni Benningfield tallied her first double-double of the year and her ninth-consecutive game in double-figures with 17 points and 13 boards. Freshman Katie Antony dished a career-high 12 helpers to mark the highest single-game assist total for a Commodore player this season. Vanderbilt found itself a little shorthanded against the Billikens as rookies Dee Davis (stress reaction in right foot) and Jenn Hall (mild concussion) sat out the game. Junior Abi Ramsey continued her indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules.
Wade Trophy and Naismith Player of the Year candidate Jenni Benningfield continues to lead VU in scoring at 17.0 ppg, but junior Ashley Earley is hot on her heels at 14.9 ppg. The Memphis, Tenn., native leads the squad in rebounding (9.0 rpg) and rates in a tie for sixth in the SEC with her board work. Junior forward Hillary Hager (13.1 ppg) leads the top three-point shooting lineup in the conference (.432 as a team) by rating third in both three-point percentage (.465) and treys made per game (2.22). Rookie guards Davis (6.12 apg) and Antony (4.44 apg) rate third and fifth in assist average in the SEC, respectively.
Rhode Island (6-3) enters the game with Vanderbilt having won five of its last six contests, with its only recent loss a 66-61 defeat at the hands of Hofstra. The Rams are currently being led by Tom Garrick, who is acting as head coach in place six-year veteran Boe Pearman. Pearman took a health-related leave of absence before URI's victory over Harvard on Dec. 20.
The Rams return a wealth of experience this season by boasting a lineup that did not lose a single letterwinner or starter off last year's squad that went 16-15 overall and 5-11 in the Atlantic-10 Conference.
Sophomore forward Tanya Rhodes is leading Rhode Island in both scoring (15.2 ppg) and rebounding (7.2 rpg), while registering seven games in double-figures in 2003-04. She rang up 27 points at Brown on Dec. 2. Senior guard Denise King and junior forward Katie Stailing combine for 23.3 ppg and 12.2 rpg. King tallied the season scoring high for the Rams with 28 points during URI's 75-73 overtime win over Providence.
The Rams stingy defense is limiting opponents to just 62.2 ppg, while leading the Atlantic-10 in both steals (12.4 spg) and turnovers forced (25.6). On the flipside, Vanderbilt is scoring 72.6 ppg and committing only 17.7 turnovers each game.
URI is only shooting at a .422 clip for the season and is being outrebounded by 0.5 rpg. The Commodores limit opponents to just 36.6% from the floor and grab 3.7 boards more than the opposition.
Led by 16th-year head coach Ferne Labati, the Hurricanes (9-0) present what might be the most daunting non-conference challenge so far for the undefeated Vanderbilt Commodores. The two squads remain as two of only nine teams with perfect records as of Dec. 23, and face a possible meeting in either the consolation or championship round of the Gatorade Holiday Classic. The 9-0 start for Miami is the best opening mark in school history and marks the longest winning-streak for UM since the 1992-93 campaign.
The ‘Canes return four starters from last year's 18-13 squad that advanced to the NCAA Tournament, falling in first round action to New Mexico 91-85. Already this season, the Orange, Green & White have defeated Richmond (currently sixth in the RPI) as well as SEC foe and future VU opponent Florida 80-75.
All five starters for the Hurricanes average in double-figures led by sophomore guard/forward Tamara James with 16.6 ppg. Last year James became the first freshman in Big East history to lead the conference in scoring when she averaged a blistering 21.0 points a game.
Two seniors, Chanivia Broussard and Shaquana Wilkins, combine for 26.3 ppg and 12.4 rpg, while juniors Yalonda McCormick (11.6 ppg/4.0 rpg) and Melissa Knight (11.0 ppg/4.2 rpg) round out the solid and experienced starting group. Broussard (.549), Wilkins (.581) and Knight (.538) all shoot at greater than a .500 clip from the floor. McCormick and Knight lead the squad in assists with 47 and 44 helpers, respectively.
Overall, UM shoots at a .477 clip, hits a solid .730 from behind the charity stripe and averages a robust 78.8 ppg while allowing opponents only 62.3 tallies a contest. The ‘Canes do suffer from some turnover problems as UM gives up an average of 20.2 miscues a game.
Toledo, headed by ninth-year head coach Mark Ehlen, looks to avoid its first three-game losing skein since the 1999-2000 season when it meets undefeated Miami, Fla., in the opening round of the Gatorade Holiday Classic. The Rockets could meet Vanderbilt on Monday, Dec. 29, in either the consolation or championship game.
The Midnight Blue & Gold (4-4) are led by an experienced starting five after welcoming back eight letterwinners and three starters off last season's 20-10 squad. That team advanced to the WNIT First Round and finished in a tie for first in the Western Division of the Mid-American Conference to claim a share of its sixth regular-season MAC title.
Kelly Walker, a senior guard and tri-captain of the Rockets, leads the squad in scoring at 14.6 ppg and in three-pointers with 24. Junior center Karin Hoogendam rates second in scoring at 10.9 ppg, but leads the squad with 8.3 rpg, having pulled down a team-high 58 boards through eight contests.
Seniors Mary Blessing and Julie Hillis (also tri-captains) combine for 15.1 ppg and 9.4 rpg, while a freshman, Danielle Bishop, rounds out the usual starting five with an 8.8 ppg and 5.1 rpg contribution.
Toledo has been struggling through some shooting woes so far in 2003-04 by hitting at only a .368 clip. Not a single Rocket player is over 50% from the field, with only Blessing coming close at .487. The Midnight Blue & Gold are being outrebounded by 5.2 boards a game and are averaging 19.8 turnovers each time out.
Toledo did face a common Vanderbilt opponent having defeated Duquesne 81-57 back on Nov. 25th. VU bested the Dukes 92-60 on Dec. 6th.
VandyMania's Whitney D. is on hand and will provide coverage of the Commodores' appearances in the two-day Gatorade Holiday Classic.