Commodores declaw Cats, advance to face Auburn

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt advanced to the quarterfinals of the SEC women's tournament with an easy 60-41 win over the Kentucky Wildcats Thursday at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Abi Ramsey led the Commodore attack with 14 points. Vanderbilt (21-7) next meets No. 19 Auburn, which had a first-round bye, Friday at 8:30 CT (Fox Sports Net TV).

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt advanced to the quarterfinals of the SEC women's tournament with an easy 60-41 win over the Kentucky Wildcats Thursday at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Junior guard Abi Ramsey led the Commodore attack with 14 points. Jenni Benningfield added 12 points, and Hillary Hager notched a double double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Vanderbilt (21-7) now faces No. 19 Auburn, which had a first round bye, Friday at 8:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available, and the game will be telecast on Fox SportsNet.

Kentucky scored the first point of the game on a free throw by SeSe Helm. That one-point lead was the Wildcats' only lead of the night, and it only lasted ten seconds until Benningfield's basket put Vanderbilt ahead 2-1 less than one minute into the game.

Carla Thomas, left, blocks the path of Kentucky forward SeSe Helm in the first half of their opening round game at the SEC women's tournament. (AP/Mark Humphrey)
For a while, Kentucky threatened to keep it close. Hager's second 3-pointer of the game gave Vanderbilt a 5-point lead at 8-3, but a Kentucky fast break off a Vanderbilt turnover trimmed the lead to three points at the first media timeout.

The Commodores gradually began to pull away. A layup by Carla Thomas and Benningfield's first 3-pointer since injuring her right foot at the beginning of the SEC season gave Vanderbilt a double-digit lead at 15-5. After that, the Wildcats managed to cut the lead to six points a couple of times, but Hager's third 3-pointer of the half gave the Commodores a 33-20 halftime lead.

Both teams got off to a rocky start in the second half. Vanderbilt started the half with a shot clock violation, and neither team scored for more than three minutes. Kentucky whittled the lead to single digits at 34-25 with 15:50 left in the game, but then a 10-0 Vanderbilt run snuffed out any hope of a Wildcat comeback.

From that point on, Kentucky never came closer than 17, despite the fact that Vanderbilt subbed liberally in the final ten minutes of the game. The Commodore lead reached 24 points, the largest of the night, with 4:40 left in the game. In the final minutes Kentucky trimmed the lead to 19 points for the final margin of 60-41.

For the game, Vanderbilt shot 40% from the floor, while holding Kentucky to use 26.2%. The Commodores also out-rebounded the Wildcats 43-37, but Kentucky had fewer turnovers with 22 compared to 24 for Vanderbilt.

POST GAME COMMENTS:

Coach Melanie Balcomb: I just thought tonight that we did a good effort on the defensive end of the floor. We were inconsistent, but we worked really hard on pressuring the basketball and not giving people, especially Potts and Helms, open looks. And the biggest thing that we got better in the second half was rebounding, checking out, and not giving them second and third shots.

The Press: Carla, can you talk about your first SEC tournament game and the environment?

Carla: It was a little rough offensively, but you got used to the environment after you got a couple of shots, especially with the shootaround that we had earlier. It wasn't as difficult as I thought it was going to be.

The Press: Can you talk about Dee Davis' condition before the game... was she a little bit ailing, and can you talk about Erica's contribution in her place?

Coach Balcomb: Dee Davis had the flu real bad for the past two days and hadn't practiced, and I thought she did a great job coming out and trying to play, so I wanted to sub her as often as possible. I think Erica has been really focused on what's going on with Dee during the game, and what they're doing defensively to her and then she comes in very prepared. I think Erica did a great job, stepped up. I think she had seven assists, something like that, and those were really important minutes in the first half especially.

The Press: For the coach and both players, would you just comment on playing Auburn for the third time.

Coach Balcomb: To me in this conference it doesn't really matter who you play, what our seed is. Everybody's good, anybody can beat anybody at all times, and we'll just focus tonight and look at the last two game films and get ready to play them. It's really about us at this point. It's how you are mentally prepared and focused. I think at this time of year, it's so mental. So it's really more about us more than it is who we play tomorrow.

The Press: Carla, could you talk about some of the blocked shots you had, and were you surprised they kept going after to you, and do you think that had something to do with why SeSe didn't play more?

Carla: I'm not really sure why SeSe didn't play more, but especially in this conference, you have to continue to attack, so I wasn't surprised when they kept going to the hole. I liked them doing that; I took advantage.

The Press: Hillary, this is a tournament in the same town your college is in. In what way is it like a road game, and what ways is it like a home situation?

Hillary :I think we definitely have an advantage because we have a great crowd here and they were out tonight, and it helps playing at night, too, because everyone comes out. It's like a road game because we're not in our home gym, we're not in our locker room, but that's all right with us, because we've been winning on the road.

The Press: Hillary, your team hit eight threes tonight, where do you think they were coming from?

Hillary: I think they came from a lot of different places, some out of transition, some out of offensive rebounds and kick outs, and some when they played zone. I don't know how many we took, but it felt like we got a lot, me especially, I didn't hit too many.

The Press: Hillary, the last few times against Auburn, they had a big lead and you came back on them in the second half. Can you talk about how that happened?

Hillary: I think that just shows the character of our team. We're never going to give up, even if we're behind like that. We're always going to play, no matter what, and I think it shows the character of our team.

The Press: Earlier in the SEC season, you usually had over 20 turnovers a game, but in the past few weeks it's been decreasing. Tonight it was up to 24, to what do you attribute that?

Coach Balcomb: I think a lot of it was Dee not practicing this week, being ill. We're back to where we were before, playing three point guards instead of really relying on Dee and having that continuity in her and Erica just backing her up for a couple of minutes. So I think we got back to where we were a couple of games ago, and turned the ball over more than we want. I think we need to do a better job and take care of the basketball.

The Press: Coach, I know you want to take the 3 when it's available, but it was something that you were looking for tonight?

Coach Balcomb: No, in fact they were very good at defending the 3 all year, one of the better teams. So I was a little nervous that we wouldn't get as many 3's as I wanted. We did a good job, I thought, even in our halfcourt offense, we did a lot of post double screens for our guards and got them open, and our posts did a nice job screening. But like Hillary said, we got them in different places, off offensive rebounds when the defense wasn't set, kicking out, we went inside out, and we got some in transition, but at the end of the game, we forced them to go to zone, which is going to open up a lot of 3's, which it did, and we're real confident against zones right now.


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