Vanderbilt improved to 17-7 overall (5-6 SEC) while LSU fell to 20-5, 8-3.
A 3-pointer from Doneeka Hodges gave LSU a 3-0 lead just ten seconds into the game, but the only other scoring in the first five minutes of the game came from the free throw line. A pair of free throws from Dee Davis put the Commodores on the board, then another pair from Ashley Earley tied the game at 4-4 with 15:08 left in the first half.
As it turned out, the Commodores would never trail after that, but neither were they able to put the game out of reach. The result was a highly contested game from start to finish, with the Lady Tigers nipping at the Commodores' heels the entire game, yet unable to retake the lead.
A layup by Thomas off a fast break gave Vanderbilt a 14-8 lead with 9:27 left in the first half, but LSU immediately countered with a 6-0 run to tie the score at 14. A jumper by freshman post Jenn Hall broke the Lady Tiger run, but Seimone Augustus answered on the other end to tie the score at 16-16 with 6:32 remaining.
Thomas gave Vanderbilt the lead for good when she was fouled on a drive to the basket, and connected on both the shot and the resulting free throw. Ramsey then hit her first 3-pointer of the game off a break, restoring the Vanderbilt lead to six points at 22-16. A few minutes later she hit another to give the Commodores a 9-point lead at 27-18 with 2:41 left. For the remainder of the half, the teams exchanged baskets, giving Vanderbilt a 33-24 halftime lead.
Ramsey also scored the first basket of the second half, giving the Commodores the first double-digit lead of the night. For several minutes the teams once again traded baskets, and with 15 minutes left, Vanderbilt still held an 11-point lead. Then Seimone Augustus hit a jumper, and when Temeka Johnson scored on a fastbreak to cut the lead to seven, the PMAC crowd, which had been quiet for much of the game, showed the first signs of rousing.
A driving layup from Thomas silenced them for the moment, and the Commodores stretched the lead to 12 points at 50-38 at the 9:34 mark.
The Lady Tigers began to make their move. Davis picked up her third and fourth fouls in quick succession and went to the bench. LSU chipped away at the lead, and when a layup by Crystal White cut the lead to 50-45 with 7:11 left, the comeback inspired the crowd to get back into the game.
A foul shot by Katie Antony and a layup by Hillary Hager on an inbounds play gave the Commodores a little breathing room at 53-45, but a 3-pointer from Scholanda Hoston and a couple of free throws from Wendlyn Jones cut the Vanderbilt lead to just 53-50 with 3:06 left. But the Commodore defense shut the door, and Ramsey hit another 3-pointer to increase the lead to 56-50 with 2:19 remaining.
The Lady Tigers had one last hurrah. After Wendlyn Jones sank a foul shot, she missed the second and the ball went out of bounds off LSU. But on their possession, Vandy went deep into the shot clock as the LSU guards pressured the ball, and as the shot clock was winding down, Johnson stole the ball and took it all the way for the score, once again cutting the lead to 3 points at 56-53 with 1:24.
But as they had all night, the Commodores had an answer. This time Thomas scored easily as Vanderbilt broke the LSU press. With just one minute remaining and trailing by five points, the Lady Tigers began to foul. Davis sank the first shot of a one-and-one, then sank the second. After Johnson missed a layup for LSU, and Davis skyed for the rebound and was immediately fouled with o:35 left.
Once again, she went to the line and sank the first free throw. She missed the second, but LSU couldn't capitalize, and by the time Augustus hit a jumper with two seconds left, but it was too little, too late, and the Commodores claimed the 61-55 victory.
Both teams shot 39.7% from the field on 23-for-58 shooting. However, the Commodores had five 3-point field goals, while LSU only had two. Vanderbilt also got more chances at the free throw line, connecting on 10 out of 13 attempts, while LSU made 7 of 10. The Commodores out-rebounded the Lady Tigers 41-32, but LSU had one less turnover with 18 compared to 19 for Vanderbilt.
The Commodores travel next to Auburn for a Sunday afternoon matchup against the Lady Tigers before returning home for senior night against Mississippi State on Feb. 26.
POST GAME COMMENTS:
Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb, junior guard Abi Ramsey, and freshman center Carla Thomas met the press after the game.
Coach Balcomb: I was just really proud of their effort and their energy that they came into the game with, and that they maintained it for 40 minutes. We've been practicing well, we've been practicing hard, and we're getting more and more confident and aggressive, and I think that showed today. We carried it through even against a very good team on the road with a very good crowd.
The Press: People thought when Chantelle left last year that Vandy wouldn't have an inside game when they came here. Can you talk about Carla Thomas' play tonight? She had a very good game.
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, Carla is just fun to watch right now because not only is she a threat inside, but she can also step outside and shoot it. She's also starting to really face up and drive to the basket, and what I'm really impressed with is Carla's defense. Her defense has gotten better and better. She's blocking shots. She's more aggressive, and she's changing people's shots that come inside. It's penetration that has hurt us in the past, and now when they penetrate and there's Carla, she's changing shots. When Jenni Benningfield went down with her stress fracture, Carla Thomas made the most of the minutes she got and just got better and better and better.
The Press: Talk about how difficult it is coming into a game after a loss to Tennessee, how did you get past it? It seemed like you all really answered the bell tonight.
Coach Balcomb: I think we made a choice after that game. We've been talking about attitude and confidence. We had a choice. We played very hard and felt like we played very well, and it was a heartbreaking loss to us, especially against such a strong rival. We thought we had an opportunity to win that game and did not. We're worked really hard on our mental attitude, and we just talked about this in the locker room, how we could have buried ourselves, especially losing four in a row and that's all anybody wants to talk about, but we weren't in that place. I knew my team was ready to play by the they came out in practice. We've been recovering after our mistakes in practice, we recovered I thought against Tennessee and then after losing a heartbreaker to Tennessee, we recovered. Right now, it's about recovery for us and changing our attitude, and we're doing that.
The Press: You hold Seimone to four shot attempts in the 2nd half. What specifically was the plan against her?
Coach Balcomb: We knew when it got closer that every time they needed a basket, they were going to go her. So every timeout, I just kept emphasizing to overplay her, to her side, anticipate the passes going to her, don't get sucked in by cuts, by screens, they're all a decoy to get her the ball. So we were really trying to focus on not getting her a lot of open looks because we knew that she'd be the one to step up and want to take shots and could make a lot of shots on us.
The Press: Going into the game, what did you consider the keys to the game, and during the game, what key adjustments, if any, did you make?
Coach Balcomb: I don't think we really had to make any key adjustments. I think we came out to play the way we chose to play our game plan, and I thought our players executed our game plan for 40 minutes. And that was to attack. It was the same game plan we had against Tennessee. It was to attack, get to the free throw line more than them, which we did, out-rebound them, which we did, be real aggressive on the boards. We had 13 offensive rebounds, and they had eight. So we out-rebounded them on offense and just keep pushing the tempo all the time. I felt like we did that. We also got a lot of deflections, blocked shots. We're just trying to take a much more aggressive attitude, and that's what we did. We just stuck with the whole time. I didn't really feel like we needed to make any adjustments. The adjustment we needed to was keep doing it for 40 minutes.
The Press: Katie only played six minutes, but it's got to be nice for her to come back and play in her home state. Can you talk about her coming home and what she's meant to the team?
Coach Balcomb: Katie's like every freshman. Whenever they get an opportunity, they've done a good job for us, and I really wanted to get her in tonight. She's earned it. She's really played well the last couple of weeks and has been very excited to come down here in front of her family. We were excited for her, and she stepped up. In the first half, she played two minutes and had four points. She was ready to play tonight, and I think a lot of that was the excitement of coming back home. But she works so hard every day in practice. She was extremely prepared when she got in, a very hard worker.
The Press: Abi, it seemed every time LSU got the game close, you came down and hit a big 3. Ya'll weren't intimidated by LSU being at home or anything.
Abi: (inaudible) . . . running and executing the plays that we did that got me open-- Carla and them set great screens below, and I was just getting a lot of open looks. That was pretty much what was going on. Usually I don't get those as often, but we just had great execution of our offense tonight, so I got a lot of open looks.
The Press: That last three, just when you needed it.
Abi: Yeah, again, that is a play that's set up for me to have a wide open three, and I had it all night, so I was pretty confident going into that shot.
The Press: Carla, can you talk about the play under the basket?
Carla: It was physical. They came to play, but once Abi opened up the outside, it was easier to get the ball inside.
The Press: How about the rebounds?
Carla: Like she told us, it was part of the game plan that we had to out-rebound their team offensively and defensively. We had to push ourselves to get in there and get the boards. We tried to do that as much as possible.
The Press: Carla, can you talk about how you like playing in the SEC?
Carla: It's fun. It's REAL fun. I love the level of competition. I love the energy and how every game is like this, and every game is a Tennessee, or a Georgia or an LSU. I like that competition.