The Commodores took a short-lived lead early on a 3-pointer from Abi Ramsey, but a 3-pointer by Carletta Brown gave the Lady Rebels a 7-5 lead two minutes into the game. By the time of the first media timeout, Ole Miss had an 8-point lead at 15-7.
With 13:20 left in the half, the Lady Rebels still led by 8 points, at 19-11. But then Hager sank a 3-pointer, and following a defensive rebound by freshman post Jenn Hall, scored again on a pull-up jumper to cut the lead to just three points at 19-16. A 3-pointer from by freshman guard Cherish Stringfield knotted the score at 19-19 with 10:42 left in the half.
Over the next eight minutes the lead exchanged hands, as first one team, then the other, would take a one- or two- point lead. With 2:17 left in the half, a basket by Ellen Buchanan gave Ole Miss the lead at 35-34.
As it turned out, that would be the last time Ole Miss would lead in the game. Hall scored on a fastbreak layup, then completed an old-fashioned 3-point play when she was fouled on a layup and sank the free throw. Earley scored on a layup, and at the opposite end blocked a shot. Ole Miss recovered but missed the shot, and Hall grabbed the defensive rebound, got the ball to freshman point guard Dee Davis, who delivered the ball to Hager, who sank a 3-pointer with 0:05 left in the half.
Over those last two minutes of the half, the Commodores' 10-0 run had turned a 1-point deficit into a 44-35 halftime lead.
The Commodores threatened to break the game open early in the second half when a steal and a fast-break layup by Stringfield gave Vanderbilt opened up a 57-41 lead. But the Lady Rebels weren't done yet. Helped by Vanderbilt fouls and turnovers, they cut the lead back to single digits at 61-52 with 10:48 left in the game.
But that was as close as they would get. Over the next three minutes, four points from Jenni Benningfield (still recovering from a stress fracture in her right foot), four from Hillary Hager and a couple of points from Carla Thomas lifted Vanderbilt to a 17-point lead at 71-54.
Vanderbilt's final run came in the last three minutes of the game. With 3:06 left, the Commodores held an 18-point lead at 79-61, then finished the game with an 11-4 run, highlighted by a fastbreak layup by Davis and Ramsey's fourth 3-pointer of the game. When the dust settled, the Commodores had defeated the Lady Rebels by the score of 90-65.
Five Commodores scored in double figures, led by the veterans Hager (21), Earley (17) and Ramsey (12). Carla Thomas added 10, and Jenn Hall scored 12 in only 12 minutes of playing time.
Thomas, Hager, and Hall each had five rebounds for Vanderbilt to lead the team. Stringfield had six assists with only one turnover, and Davis had five assists with only one turnover.
Amber Watts led Ole Miss in scoring with 12 points, while Tywanna Inmon and superfrosh Armintie Price had 10 each. Price was leading rebounder for the Lady Rebels with 12.
For the game, Vanderbilt shot a sizzling 59.3% from the field, compared to 42.9% for Ole Miss. The Commodores shot 57.1% from 3-point range, while Ole Miss shot only 27.8%. The Commodores also out-rebounded the Lady Rebels 31-27 and had fewer turnovers, 24-20.
Vanderbilt improved its record to 15-3 (3-2 SEC), while Ole Miss fell to 12-8, 3-3. Next Vanderbilt travels to Fayetteville, Ark. for a Thursday night game at Bud Walton Arena against the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks, then returns home to host Florida on Sunday afternoon.
Coach Balcomb: I think the big thing was we played as a team the entire game. It as the first time I felt like it was a Vanderbilt team that showed what-- I've been asked for a year and half, "Is this what it's supposed to look like yet?" And I keep saying, "No, it's getting there." And today, it looked like the Vanderbilt team, it looked like what I wanted it to look like.
We played defense for 40 minutes. We pushed the ball for 40 minutes, and we went from fast, if we did not have fast, we went slow and executed in the halfcourt. So I think the biggest thing was I was proud to see us take our intensity, our execution, that we had the best two days of practice after getting thumped in Tennessee, and that says a lot about my team and their heart.
The Press: Coach, how great is it to have 5 players not named "Jenni Benningfield" in double figures?
Coach Balcomb: It's great in that she's going to just keep getting better physically and so is Dee, and it's so nice to know that we have other things to go to until she gets better, and we're just going to get deeper and stronger. I just felt we were very deep tonight, and that's all the experience because of all the adversity that we've had to go through.
The Press: What do you say about the play of freshmen Jenn Hall and Carla Thomas?
Coach Balcomb: I saw it in practice for the past two days, and I didn't know if they were going to bring it to the game yet or not. They hadn't yet, and I just kept saying if they just would bring what they've done for two days to carry it over to the game, it's going to be awesome, and that's exactly what they did. They looked good on both ends of the floor.
The Press: Coach, you said that the players had their two best practices of the season after the Tennessee game. Do you think their pride was a little bit hurt about how things transpired in Knoxville?
Coach Balcomb: I think they were very upset about the legacy of going over there and losing. I think they want to stop the legacy. I think they are very serious about that. It really hurt them for that to continue to happen.
The Press: Speaking of legacy, do you want to talk about your journey to 200 wins?
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, I didn't know that. Charlie said something on the radio-- I had no idea. Doesn't really mean anything to me. I was so excited to see my 200th win look like a team that I wanted it to look like. That's the first time I feel like that's what Balcomb basketball is supposed to look like, and you guys hadn't seen it yet. I felt really good about that.
The Press: Coach, Hillary was scoreless and came back with a game high 21.
Coach Balcomb: She's a competitor, and I know she had six turnovers and didn't play well, and I sat her a lot. There's nobody I didn't think would come back stronger than Hillary Hager. She's an extreme competitor. Don't make her mad. Take the ball from her, and she's going to come down and score on you. So I think she was very mad. She was very upset, and that was obvious by how she played the next game.
The Press: Coach, can you compare Ole Miss last year to this year?
Coach Balcomb: They're good, and I know from watching them on tape, they're a much improved team. I watched their Florida game over and over and over because they beat Florida, and we lost to Florida, so we were really concerned because they looked much improved from last year. Much more aggressive than they were when we played them last year. And their freshman Price is very very good, and she's made them better also.
The Press: Do you think they're more disciplined?
Coach Balcomb:I don't know if it's discipline. I think they're more aggressive. Carol's a great coach, and she's intense, and I think your program is going to reflect you, and they're more intense than they were last year, and they reflect her.
The Press: Why didn't Katie Antony play?
Coach Balcomb: She had a mild concussion and was not cleared to play today. It was a gametime decision.
The Press: So you don't have any idea when she'll be back?
Coach Balcomb: No, that was a gametime decision. I was told right before the game; that's why she was still in uniform.
The Press: Was it something in the practice or theTennessee game?
Coach Balcomb: In the Tennessee game, she hit her head.
Coach Balcomb left the room, and senior guard Hillary Hager and junior forward Ashley Earley came in for questions.
The Press: Hillary, Coach Balcom said that was the closest you had come to playing the style of basketball that she wants you to play for 40 minutes. Can you speak to that?
Hillary: Well, she's absolutely right. We did a lot of things that we drill in practice, and we just carried them over to the game tonight. In other games we had taken one or two, but we did just about everything that we drill in practice and that they teach in practice, and we took it to the game, and obviously we were very successful.
The Press: What happened that you were able to bring more of it to practice than to a game than you have in a year and a half?
Hillary: Well, I think we had two of our best practices after our loss and a really good shootaround this morning. I don't know if there's a-- I don't want to say "mentality change", but there's definitely more committment to doing those things and carrying them to the game.
The Press: Hillary, did your Tennessee performance drive some more of your offensive aggressiveness?
Hillary: Yeah, I was extremely disappointed with my performance at Tennessee. I didn't show up at all. It might have been one of my worst performances ever, maybe. I knew I had to rebound off that, but at the same time, it was more focus on the team, not really on my individual performance.
The Press: Ashley, do you tend to be more committed to doing those things coming off of a loss, or is this something you can maintain coming out of this game to Arkansas and beyond?
Ashley: It's definitely something that we are committed to maintaining. We tried doing it our way, and obviously that wasn't successful, so we did it their way today -- everybody was much more committed for the first time, like coach said, in a year and a half, and it was successful, so we plan to take that on for the rest of the year.
The Press: Can you tell a difference even in the quality of entry passes into the post by the freshman guards?
Ashley: Yes, and it's not just on the guards. As posts, we have to post up harder. We're not posting consistently, and it's hard for them to know when to pass it and what angle to get when we're not doing our job. And on them getting better -- yes, they are getting better. They're getting much better.
The Press: Do you look at the fact that they beat Florida and Georgia as you're preparing for the game?
Hillary: As a team, no. And I don't know how much it enters the young players minds, but I think the older players, yeah, we do. We've been around longer, and we know the teams in the SEC. I definitely knew that Ole Miss had beaten Florida and that they had beaten Florida. We knew this was a good team and this was a big game.
Ashley: We understand that we're in the SEC, the best conference in women's basketball, and you have to come out every night ready to play, or you're going to get beat. You have to go into every game respecting the other team and play 110%.
The Press: Either of you, can you talk to the offensive balance that you all had tonight?
Hillary: I think that plays back to that we were really doing the things that we drill in practice, doing the things our coaches like because that's what they're offense is about, balanced scoring, balanced offense, balanced everything. And I think that is just a reflection of us being committed to what they're teaching.
Hillary and Ashley left, and Ole Miss Head Coach Carol Ross and senior Tywanna Inmon came in for questions.
Coach Ross: I thought Vanderbilt played awfully well, and we played awfully poor. The combination of one team playing well in our league and one team playing not so well in our league is the result of this game, which was an old-fashioned fanny-whipping. I sensed Vandy was really beginning to play well. They've had a lot of adversity with different things, and I just kind of sensed in scouting that they were a team that was on their way up. I don't know what our problem was. I don't know if we had a Georgia hangover or a-- The coaches didn't coach real well. We did a terrible job coaching. The players did a terrible job playing. Vandy, on the flip side, I thought their coaches did a great job, and their players did a great job. It's life in the league, I guess.
The Press: Coach, was the game at the tempo you would prefer?
Coach Ross: I'd have to think way back to the beginning, which I have a hard time getting back to, but we have a lot of respect for Vanderbilt's defense. We really did not want to get stuck in a five-on-five game against their defense. We would have liked a fast tempo, just so we could mix our offensive opportunities with some fullcourt execution, some halfcourt offense, some offensive rebounding, some free throws, which is usually how we attack people. We're not too one-dimensional. And when we do that, that's when we play best. It's also the way we really felt like we needed to play today because the respect we had for Vanderbilt's defense. So the tempo was not what I had hoped it would be.
The Press: Would you have liked it faster?
Coach Ross: Much faster. A little wilder.
The Press: Coach, what did they do to take Armintie from you?
Coach Ross: I'm not sure what they were doing, but if you stand around, then I can guard you, and that's not a complement to anybody offensively. I just didn't see the same aggression with our cuts, with our decision-making, with tempo, with offensive rebounding. I didn't see a whole lot of offensive intensity from our end of the floor. Now, credit Vanderbilt's defense. The way they play defense is a little bit like a spider web, and maybe paralysis by analysis is part of their defensive weaponry. If it is, we went nicely into the noose because we just stood around. And when you stand around, it affects your offensive rebounding as wel. You can't dribble drive and break down the defense. There are always two sides to everything, and of course I'm looking at it from a very critical Ole Miss point of view. But at the same time, I do have a lot of respect for what Vanderbilt's doing and how they do it. They think they played great, and I think we played terrible, and there's probably a nice medium in there that I'm having trouble getting to right now.
The Press: Tywanna, I know that tonight was a disappointing loss for you, but your team is much improved this year. Can you talk about the difference between last year and this year?
Tywanna: I think we've tried to make our trademark to play hard at all times. Obviously tonight we didn't, and that's what makes it so disappointing. Obviously, we didn't come ready to play. But I think that's the biggest turnaround, to play hard and try to play together as much as we can. I guess it's that we try not to give up and play hard, but we didn't show that today. It was really disappointing.
Photos of #3 Cherish Stringfield finishing on the fast break, #42 Jenni Benningfield in the post, and #10 Dee Davis finishing the fast break by Whitney D for VandyMania.com. Click on thumbnails to view a larger image.