Ouch! Crimson Tide spanks sluggish Vandy, 81-68

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.-- Vanderbilt's women's hoops team suffered its third straight defeat Sunday, as it fell to Alabama, 81-68. Carla Thomas led the Commodores in scoring with 16 points, followed by Jenni Benningfield (11), Hillary Hager (11) and Ashley Earley (10). Vanderbilt fell to 16-6 overall (4-5 SEC), while Alabama improved to 11-11, 3-6.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.-- Vanderbilt's women's hoops team suffered its third straight defeat Sunday, as it fell to Alabama 81-68.

"We decided to make the game a nightmare," said Alabama Coach Rick Moody after the game, and from the Vanderbilt point of view, the Crimson Tide succeeded. The main ingredient of the nightmare was relentless pressure on the ball, which resulted in 23 turnovers for the Commodores, leading to 28 Alabama points.

"Foul early and often" describes Alabama's aggressive, very physical style of play. Alabama fouls put Vanderbilt into the bonus with over 13 minutes left in the first half.

"[Referee June Corteau] said, 'You keep doing it, we're going to keep calling it,'" said Moody. "I said, 'Go right ahead.' We wanted to make it that kind of game."

Vanderbilt fell behind early when a couple of 3-pointers from Mandisha Rebus helped give the Tide a 12-4 lead with 16:01 left in the game. But coming out of the first media timeout, Jenni Benningfield scored on an inbounds play to ignite a Vanderbilt run. When Dee Davis scored on a fastbreak layup, was fouled and hit the free throw, the Commodores took their first lead of the game at 14-12.

Alabama countered, but the Vanderbilt run continued until the Commodores took a 23-16 lead with 10:09 left in the half. But for Vanderbilt, that was as good as it was going to get. The Tide scored five straight points from the free throw line, then regained the lead at 24-23 on a 3-pointer by Kate Mastin with five minutes left in the half.

Alabama stretched the lead out eight points at 33-25 with 4:17 left in the half, but the Commodores fought their way back. A 3-pointer from Cherish Stringfield cut the lead back to three points at 35-32, then a pair of free throws from Carla Thomas cut the deficit to just one point at 35-34. An Alabama free throw ended the scoring for the half at 36-34.

For the second straight game, the bottom dropped at for Vanderbilt at the beginning of the second half. A 3-pointer by Monique Bivins just 12 seconds into the second half was a harbinger of what was in store. Five minutes later, Alabama had reeled off a 17-2 run and taken a 17-point lead at 53-36 with 15:21 left.

The Commodores stopped the bleeding and kept fighting, but by then, they were facing a steep uphill climb. A pair of free throws from Abi Ramsey cut the Alabama lead to 11 points with ten minutes left in the game, but the Tide lead grew back to 15 at 67-52 with seven minutes left.

Vanderbilt had one last run in it. A 3-pointer by Stringfield with 4:53 left cut the lead to single digits at 67-58, and baskets by Ashley Earley and Hillary Hager cut the lead back to just six points at 69-63 with 2:34 left in the game. A steal by Dee Davis gave Vanderbilt the chance to cut the lead further, but the Commodores couldn't capitalize.

With the Tide willing to work deep into the shot clock, Vandy's only hope was to foul to attempt to regain possession. But Alabama hit its free throws, connecting on 10 of 12 in the last two minutes of the game. Vanderbilt managed a 3-pointer from Hillary Hager and a basket from Dee Davis, but it was too little, too late; the Tide claimed the 81-68 victory.

Carla Thomas led the Commodores in scoring with 16 points, followed by Jenni Benningfield (11), Hillary Hager (11) and Ashley Earley (10). Hager was leading rebounder with 7 and Benningfield and Earley had 5 each.

Monique Bivins led the Crimson Tide with 23 points, while Kate Mastin scored 18 off the bench. Bivins was also leading rebounder with 6.

Vanderbilt shot 44% from the field, but there was a sharp difference in the two halves, as the Commodores shot 61% in the first half, but only 34% in the second. Alabama shot 44% for the game. Rebounds were equal at 33 each, and Vanderbilt had 23 turnovers compared to 20 for Alabama.

With the loss Vanderbilt fell to 16-6 overall (4-5 SEC), while Alabama improved to 11-11, 3-6. The Commodores have Thursday night off, then return to action Sunday at 4 p.m. when they host the Tennessee Lady Vols at Memorial Gym.

POST GAME COMMENTS

Coach Balcomb: I think it's the third game in a row where we've come out and turned the ball over too much and really struggled to get it close at halftime. We were shooting 61% from the field, but we were down by 2. And we had taken 18 shots, and they had taken 31. I think we're at the point where the more you talk about it, the more you turn it over. And then in the second half, again we came out of the locker room flat. We were down 12-2 at the beginning of the game, and they went on a 17-2 run at the start of the second half. We're trying everything different in the locker room, and we're just not coming out mentally confident and ready to play.

The Press: Can you talk about Alabama's defense?

Coach Balcomb: Alabama's defense was good. They did a good job pressuring the basketball and pressuring our point guards, I think they did a good job, especially in the press, of forcing us to go fast, and we didn't do a good job of settling down.


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