The first two minutes of the game gave fans a premonition of what lay ahead. Miami jumped on two Vanderbilt turnovers to take an early 6-0 lead, prompting Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb to call a 30-second timeout. After the timeout, Katie Antony found Jenni Benningfield under the basket to stop the bleeding momentarily.
From that point on, Vanderbilt was forced play catchup against a talented, athletic team playing on its home court. In Sunday night's game against Rhode Island, the Commodores had fallen behind by double digits in the first ten minutes, then responded with a 12-0 run after Coach Balcomb provided a "reality check" during a timeout.
On Monday, however, there were no rabbits left in the hat. For most of the first half, Vanderbilt held its ground. A 3-pointer from Abi Ramsey cut the lead to 3 points at 14-11 with 12 minutes left, and a few minutes later, a 3-pointer from Benningfield trimmed the Miami lead to 19-16.
Late in the first half, freshman post Carla Thomas provided a lift off the bench. After grabbing the rebound of Hillary Hager's missed 3-pointer, she sank the layup. Then she blocked a shot, scored on a layup, and scored again on a jumper from the high post to bring the Commodores within 28-24 with five minutes left in the half.
But the Hurricanes answered the call once again. Tournament MVP Chavinia Broussard sank a couple of free throws, then Shaquana Wilkins frustrated the Vanderbilt defense by sinking a layup as the shot clock was about to expire. With a minute left in the half, the Hurricanes claimed their first double-digit lead of the night at 38-26. A 3-pointer by Abi Ramsey cut the lead back to single digits at 38-29 at halftime.
For the first few minutes of the second half, the Commodores treaded water, keeping the Hurricanes within shooting distance. But with 16:13 left in the game, a 3-pointer from Yolanda McCormick put Miami up by ten at 45-35.
From that point on the Commodores, who had been clinging to the cliff by their fingernails for most of the game, finally lost their grip and slid further and further behind. Just about everything that could go wrong, did. Most notably, the Hurricanes turned the ball over only four times in the second half while forcing 15 Vanderbilt turnovers and capitalizing on them for 23 points.
The Commodores hit bottom when a fast-break layup by McCormick gave the Hurricanes a 28-point lead with 3:56 left in the game. At that point, the Miami starters began to leave the game, and by the time the final buzzer sounded, Vanderbilt had whittled the lead down to the final margin of 79-57.
Thomas led Vanderbilt in scoring with 18 points, followed by Benningfield's 17. No other Commodore scored more than 6 points. Thomas was also leading rebounder with 8, followed by Benningfield with 5. Katie Antony dished out 5 assists.
Yalonda McCormick led Miami in scoring with 28 points, followed by Chanivia Broussard with 18, and Shaquana Wilkins with 16. Wilkins was leading rebounder for the Hurricanes with 10.
The usual sharp-shooting Commodores were held to 38.2% from the field (6 of 20 from 3-point range), while Miami shot 44.4% (6 of 12 from 3-point range). Miami also out-rebounded the Commodores 37-34, and decisively won the turnover battle with only 12 turnovers compared to 25 for Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt fell to 10-1 with the loss, while Miami stayed unbeaten at 11-0. Next action for Vanderbilt is Fan Appreciation Day at Memorial Gym on January 2 when the Commodores host Syracuse at 7 p.m. CT. Tickets are only $1 each, and the Vanderbilt players will sign autographs for an hour after the game.
STRONG>POST GAME COMMENTS:
After Vandy's 79-57 loss to Miami, Vanderbilt senior guard Hillary Hager and Head Coach Melanie Balcomb talked with VandyMania. First, Hillary answered a few questions:.
VM: Hillary, could you make a few comments about the game?
Hillary: We saw pressure that we haven't seen in however many games we've played, and...
VM: Different types of pressure?
Hillary: Just more. They were great athletes, very athletic, and we didn't handle it real well. There are a lot of things that we know now that we need to get better at, and that's what practice is for, so we're going to go back to work.
VM: As a senior, you've had disappointing losses and adversity before, but for the freshmen, this is the first time they've dealt with a loss. How do you approach that with them?
Hillary: We just tell them that there are things we need to get better at, obviously, as that game showed, and we're going to get to work on those. And we can improve on those, and when we do improve, then we'll be all right. We'll be there.
Hillary left for the showers, then Coach Balcomb shared some thoughts about the game.
Coach Balcomb: I think this game really exposed where we're at right now. It's the first really big strong talented athletic team that we've played, and I think it's a great teaching game, a great learning game, because it exposed some of the things we've been trying to get them to do and haven't been able to, and they've been getting away with not doing it.
VM: So there will be a lot of film watching?
Coach Balcomb: (Chuckles ruefully.) There will be a lot of film watching and hopefully improving on the things and being more consistent in practice on doing the things. It's just a wake-up call. Hopefully you learn more from losses than you do from wins.
VM: This is the first time that six of your players have experienced a loss at the college level. What do you tell them?
Coach Balcomb: I think they're resilient. I think they're freshmen. I think it's the upperclassmen that needed to do a better job of communicating with our freshmen. They've been out there against all these athletes, and they've played at this level, and they know what it takes in the SEC. They've got to do a better job of preparing them for this caliber of play for when we get to conference.
VM: Was Carla Thomas' play something of a bright spot?
Coach Balcomb: Yeah. That was the bright spot. There was no other bright spot. It's nice to see that she can play at this level, and that she had the confidence. She wanted the ball in the post all night, and she was the only one I could find that wanted the ball in the post, and that's really good to see.
Photos of No. 42 Jenni Benningfield and No. 50 Carla Thomas by Micah Miller for VandyMania.com. Click thumbnails to view a larger image.