The last time the Vanderbilt women's basketball team visited Fayetteville, a group of rowdy hecklers known as the "Rude Crew" occupied the baseline adjacent to the visitors' bench. This year the baseline was occupied by the new generation of Arkansas fans. Unfortunately, for the piglets, however, the balloons didn't stop the Commodores from shooting 89% from the free throw line.
The Vanderbilt staff marches onto the field of battle, with Assistant Coach Kristin Schneider in the lead, followed by Head Coach Melanie Balcomb, with Director of Basketball Operations Kornell Battle in the rear.
It's Bud Walton Arena, home of the Razorbacks, taken from a vantage point overlooking the visitors' bench. In this photo, the pep band is spot-lighted in the opposite corner. On the Commodores' last trip to Fayetteville, the pep band attempted to disrupt huddles by playing loudly right behind the coach as he talked to the team. This year, the pep band stayed in their seats.
Just in case any of the Arkansas fans forget where they are, the cheerleaders wear reminders on the back of their uniforms.
The Commodores gather for last minute instructions and exhortations before taking the court for tipoff.
The game featured relentless defensive intensity by both teams. Arkansas stuck to 3-point threats Hillary Hager and Abi Ramsey like white on rice.
Freshman post Jenn Hill battles Arkansas' Ruby Vaden, one of the up-and-coming stars of the SEC, for position. Vaden was deadly in the low block, connecting on 13 of 14 shots from the field, all within a few feet of the basket.
The "Rude Crew" was still in evidence, though they now occupy the corner of the gym catty-cornered to the visitor's bench. The traditional "Flush the Commodes" toilet costume is at the far end of the line. The pot belly over hanging the blue jeans next to the Commode is fake, but the red one is genuine.
The two freshman point guards -- Kristin Peoples of Arkansas and Dee Davis of Vandy -- give each other the eye in the second half, while Jenni Benningfield waits to check into the game.
"Her tenacious approach more than makes up for a lack of height. On multiple defensive switches Thursday, Grimaldi never flinched when matched up with Arkansas 6-1 standout Shameka Christon." -- Chris Cocoles, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Ashley Earley had missed two free throws earlier, the only free throws Vanderbilt missed in the second half. But down the stretch, she was 3 for 3 from the line, including both ends of a one-and-one and a foul shot following a layup.
Freshman post Carla Thomas was 4 for 4 from the free throw line for the game...
...and freshman point guard Erica Grimaldi was 2 for 2...
...and senior center Jenni Benningfield was 10-for-10. In all, the Commodores were 23-of-27 from the free throw line for the game for a sizzling 88.9%.
Arkansas Ruby Vaden and Hillary Hager battled for position for a rebound that never came, as Jenni sank another free throw to tie the game at 69-69 with 1:47 remaining.
With 24 seconds left in the game, Cherish Stringfield drove to the basket, then kicked out to Hillary Hager, who sank a 3-pointer to give Vanderbilt a 72-69 lead. With 10.9 seconds left, Arkansas called timeout.
After the timeout, Arkansas missed a desperation 3-pointer, and the ball went out of bounds off an Arkansas player to give possession to Vanderbilt. Jenni Benningfield took the inbounds pass, was immediately fouled, went to the line and sank the free throws that sealed the win.
After the game, Hillary Hager, Erica Grimaldi, and Head Coach Melanie Balcomb were available to answer questions from the press.
For Arkansas, Ruby Vaden, who scored a career high 29 points and who set the Arkansas school record with 13 field goals on 14 attempts.
After the game several happy members of the Grimaldi family, who had made the trip from Kansas City to see the game, posed for a photograph with Erica.
Photographs of Jenn Hall and the "Rude Crew" by Whitney D for VandyMania.com. All other photographs by Rose Mary Drake for VandyMania.com.