The Commodores outlasted UTC 60-44 in NCAA Second Round action at Chattanooga's McKenzie Arena behind Carla Thomas' 15 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots. Hillary Hager added 12 points and 11 rebounds.
With the win, Vandy's tenth straight, the Commodores (26-7) advanced to the Sweet 16 to face the No. 6-seeded Stanford Cardinal Sunday in Norman, Okla. Stanford upset No. 3-seeded Oklahoma, 68-43, Monday night in Tempe, Ariz. to advance.
The Lady Mocs scored the first basket of the game and minutes later held a 4-2 lead, but Vanderbilt soon took the lead and never trailed the rest of the game.
It was far from easy, however. The first half was a tight, defensive struggle. Every time the Commodores managed to put a little cushion between themselves and the Lady Mocs, UTC had an answer.
About halfway through the first half, the Commodores took a 5-point lead at 13-8 on a basketball by Ashley Earley, but then Lady Mocs scored five straight to tie the game. Vanderbilt's biggest lead of the half was seven points at 27-20 with 2:37 left, but the Commodores couldn't score again. Katie Galloway sank both ends of a one-and-one opportunity to cut the Commodore lead at halftime at 27-24.
During the first half, Vanderbilt's outside shooters weren't hitting, as the Commodores were 0-for-4 from 3-point range. That changed abruptly in the second half, as Hager hit a 3-pointer to open the half, extending the Commodore lead to six points and igniting an 11-0 Vanderbilt run.
After watching the 3-point halftime deficit balloon to 14 points at 38-24, UTC Head Coach Wes Moore called timeout. Coming out of the timeout, the Lady Mocs scored their first basket of the half.
Chattanooga kept scrapping and battling for the rest of the game, but ultimately, that 11-0 Commodore run to start the second half had put the Lady Mocs in too deep a hole.
UTC did have a run left in it, though. After a layup by Benningfield increased the Vanderbilt lead to 18 points at 45-27, UTC scored six straight points, cutting the lead to 45-33 and prompting Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb to call timeout.
Immediately after the timeout, Vanderbilt was whistled for a lane violation, and UTC scored on the other end. The highly partisan home crowd cranked up the noise, briefly creating perhaps the noisiest environment the Commodores have played in this year.
But a basket from Benningfield quieted the crowd somewhat, and another basket from Benningfield and another 3-pointer from Hager proved to be the crushing blow. Vandy restored its lead to 15 points at 52-37 with five minutes left.
UTC kept fighting and managed a couple of late 3-pointers, but the Commodores held their ground, and when the final buzzer sounded, Vanderbilt had earned a 60-44 victory and a trip to the Sweet 16.
Three Commodores scored in double figures. Besides Thomas' 15 and Hager's 12, Jenni Benningfield also had 12. Thomas and Hager each had 11 rebounds and Ashley had eight. Freshman point guard Dee Davis dished out eight assists. Miranda Warfield was leading scorer for UTC with 12 points, followed by Katie Galloway with 11.
For the game, Vanderbilt shot 52.8% from the field, while holding UTC to 27%. Neither team was effective from long range, with Vanderbilt hitting only 20% of its 3-point attempts, while Chattanooga hit 21%. The Lady Mocs hit 6 of their 9 free throw attempts, while Vanderbilt made only two free throws on six attempts. The Commodores out-rebounded the Lady Mocs 42-35, but had more turnovers with 18 compared to 12 for UTC.