Lady Dogs stave off Commodores, 83-67

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt dropped its second straight home game Thursday, as it fell 83-67 to Georgia at Memorial Gym. Sherill Baker led the Lady Bulldogs (16-5, 5-3 SEC) with 24 points, followed by Janese Kardrick's 20. One of the few bright spots for the Commodores (16-5, 4-4 SEC) was the play of freshman post Carla Thomas, who led Vandy with 24 points and eight rebounds.

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt dropped its second straight home game Thursday, as it fell 83-67 to Georgia at Memorial Gym. Sherill Baker led the Lady Bulldogs (16-5, 5-3 SEC) with 24 points, followed by Janese Kardrick's 20.

One of the few bright spots for the Commodores (16-5, 4-4 SEC) was the play of freshman post Carla Thomas, who led Vandy with 24 points and eight rebounds.

For the game's first twelve minutes the teams looked evenly matched, with the lead seesawing back and forth and frequently tied. With 8:16 left, Vanderbilt held an 18-17 lead. Although it wasn't apparent at the time, that would be the Commodores' last lead.

Georgia began to build a 9-point lead at 32-23. But just as it looked as if the game was going to get away from the Commodores, Vanderbilt went on a 7-0 run, capped by a fast break 3-pointer from junior guard Abi Ramsey, waking up the crowd and closing the gap to 32-30 with 2:14 left in the half.

But the well went dry for the Commodores, who didn't score again in the half, while three Vanderbilt turnovers helped Georgia to take a 36-30 halftime lead.

It didn't take long in the second half for things to turn from so-so to bad, to even worse. Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb juggled the lineup to start the half, as she looked for inspired play on both ends of the court. But nonetheless Georgia went on a 7-0 run to start the half, until Nicole Jules found Carla Thomas in the low post for Vanderbilt's first basket of the half.

Unfortunately for the Commodores, the interruption was short-lived, as the Lady Dogs out-scored Vandy 11-2 over the next few minutes to take a formidable 20-point lead at 54-34 with 15:57 left. Vanderbilt stopped the run with a couple of baskets, but Georgia immediately reciprocated with two of the own, maintaining the 20-point lead at 58-38 with 12:59 left.

Balcomb put a lineup on the floor that consisted of freshman guards Katie Antony, Cherish Stringfield and Caroline Williams, along with freshman post Carla Thomas and junior post Ashley Earley. The bleeding stopped, but there was still a huge hill to climb.

Vanderbilt whittled away at Georgia's big lead, cutting it down to 64-52 with 6:28 left, and managing to get within 11 points at 73-62 with 2:05 left. But it would get no closer.

Georgia didn't score another field goal, but it didn't need to, as Vanderbilt sent a succession of Lady Bulldogs to the free-throw line. Andy Landers' team connected on 10-of-13 attempts. Meanwhile the Commodores scored five points, all from Hillary Hager, but it wasn't enough to climb out of the hole. Georgia left with an 83-67 victory.

Thomas' 24 points led Vandy, followed by Hillary Hager's 12 and Abi Ramsey's 11. Thomas was leading rebounder with 8 boards, followed by Jenni Benningfield and Ashley Earley with 6 boards each. Dee Davis dished out 6 assists.

Christi Thomas had 9 rebounds for the Lady Bulldogs, and Jessica Pierce had 9.

For the game, Vanderbilt shot 42.9% from the field, while Georgia shot 50.9%. The Lady Bulldogs also out-rebounded the Commodores 35-32 and had slightly fewer turnovers with 23 compared to 25 for Vanderbilt.

With the loss, Vanderbilt fell to 16-5 overall (4-4 SEC) while Georgia improved to 16-5 overall (5-3 SEC). In their next action, the Commodores travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala. for a Sunday, 2 p.m. matchup against the Alabama Crimson Tide.


Coach Balcomb: I think the tough part is going into the game we thought it would be about rebounding, checking out, and turnovers, and we did a poor job at both. The positive was Carla Thomas and her confidence and the way she's getting better every day, and having four freshmen and a junior out there on the floor making the run and not quitting in the second half like we did.

The Press: Can you talk about the lineup you put out there in the second half? It isn't a lineup that we're used to seeing. Coach Balcomb: I tried to play who works very hard and who was inspired. I just tried to find five inspired people that would play defense, that would be aggressive, and go after the basketball and rebound, and they did. I thought they did a nice job trapping, being aggressive defensively and crashing the boards on both ends. We had one offensive rebound at halftime, so I was trying to get players that I knew would work hard and be aggressive, so you had your workers out there. That's who you had. And it turned out to be four freshmen, and we made a nice run. And that's very positive.

The Press: So at halftime you talked more about how the team wasn't playing hard enough than about X's and O's?

Coach Balcomb: Yes, very much so. Not playing hard enough, not having confidence and hesitating, and turning the ball over. At that pace that we were turning the basketball over, there needed some message sent, and there needed to be some changes made. (Pause.) And I tried to pick people-- I gave other people a chance that would play at both ends of the floor.

The Press: Would you say that the guards that Georgia reeled out are the quickest you've seen?

Coach Balcomb: Yes, they're very very quick. They're definitely the most athletic and quick. They've got great guards. There's no doubt about that. We got beat off the dribble, and we didn't do a good job containing them, even in our zone.

The Press: Coach, you were talking about the start of the second half, Katie had 2 shots blocked by Thomas, is there such as thing as being too aggressive?

Coach Balcomb: No, it's about reading the defense. She's doing the right thing, shot faking and going, but she's not reading that next help. She's beating her player, then she's not reading the help, she's just pulling up and shooting it. She's just going too fast. She's a freshman that hasn't slowed down to read the defense yet. So we've got a lot of shocks blocked all year, inside and outside.

The Press: It seemed like there were a couple of missed shots or layups.

Coach Balcomb: I think we just rushed things and were not confident. We're rushing it so we don't get it blocked, and we were intimidated inside from the start of the game. They were giving up whatever we wanted, high-low in our post game. They were denying our guards, and out posts were hesitating passing, hesitating shooting, and were turning the ball over. It was just a lack of confidence.

The Press: Coach, they closed the first half on a 4-0 run to end the first half then went on a 15-2 run to open the second half. Was that all about confidence and hesitation?

Coach Balcomb: A lot of different things happened.

The Press: If the problem is lack of confidence, how do you go about helping to build it when you've just lost two home games in a row?

Coach Balcomb: They have to build their confidence. They have to learn from the mistakes they made. They have to learn that the more they hesitate, the more intimidated they are, the more they don't earn that confidence in practice, then they're not going to make any changes. They're going to continue to be like that. You've got to learn from your experience, and their last two experiences just haven't been good, so they need to make changes and try something else. They have to realize that they have to play to win and go at people instead of hesitating and not going at people. They have to learn to go for it, and we have yet to do that against a good team.

The Press: Do you think Jenni is still feeing the effects of her injury?

Coach Balcomb: I don't know, I have not talked to her about her injury lately. I don't know -- you can ask her that.

Coach Balcomb left, and senior guard Hillary Hager and freshman post Carla Thomas entered the room for questions.

The Press: Hillary, can you talk about how Georgia's guards may have taken you guys out of what you wanted to do offensively, especially in the second half?

Hillary: I don't know if I'd say that they took us out of it, but I think we kind of did it to ourselves. We turned the ball over a lot the first five minutes. Someone said they scored 20 points in the first five minutes of the second half, and you just can't have that. Carla and I were just talking about it, it was turnover after turnover, in our halfcourt. You can't have that if you're going to win.

The Press: Coach Balcomb said at halftime that the message was that you had to play harder, not X's and O's. Where does it come from within yourselves to realize that you've got to come out in the second half and do it?

Hillary: Well, that's how we play. If you aren't playing inspired or with any kind of emotion or anything, then you shouldn't be out there. I mean, we've put so much time into this over the course of a lifetime, and if you're not playing with any passion, it's not worth it.

Carla: It's all mental. It shows that we weren't playing with any effort, any hustle, and it was like we weren't playing within ourselves the way everyone can play. And we weren't playing as a team. We were hesitating, and we were over-thinking things, and we had too many turnovers that didn't have anything to do with anyone else.

The Press: Hillary, what do you do to get it back between now and Sunday? You've had back-to-back losses.

Hillary: In some respects, you've got to go back to square one and keep believing in what we're doing, and keep doing what we had been doing, keep doing what the coaches teach us, and we didn't do that tonight. After we played Ole Miss, I was in here saying along with somebody else, we did what the coaches asked, we took that to the game, and we won, we won big, and we just didn't do that today or against Florida.

The Press: Carla, tonight you had six points in the first half and 18 in the second half. It isn't the first game where you've scored a lot more in the second. What is it that makes the difference for you between the first and second half?

Carla: Tonight I think it was more Coach getting on us at halftime to step up. I don't think it's a good thing that I score more in the second half than the first. I think I need to come out from the start and come out intense, but I haven't been doing that. That's what I have to change.

The Press: Do you think that the time you're in the game in the first half helps you to get in the flow and that helps you in the second half?

Carla: That is true, you get into the flow of the game, but I still need to be able to do it sooner. The Press: Carla, do you feel like you're getting a little more acclimated to the SEC? Are you beginning to feel a little more confident in what you're doing?

Carla: Definitely. The more you're out there, the more games you play, the more confident you get.

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