The loss at New Mexico because it turned out to be the last game of the season for 6'2 star forward Plenette Pierson, a 2nd-team All-Big 12 player last year. Following the game, Head Coach Marsha Sharp announced that Pierson would be suspended indefinitely. Last week, it was decided that Pierson would stay with the team, but spend the remainder of the season on the bench.
Prior to her suspension Pierson had averaged 14.5 points and 9 rebounds in the first four games of the season. In her absence, 6'5 freshman Cisti Greenwalt, a WBCA high school All-American, has stepped up to help fill the gap in the front court. In the five games since Pierson's suspension, Greenwalt has averaged 8.6 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, including 14 points and 18 rebounds against St. Peter's and 13 points and 16 rebounds against Rice.
But Texas Tech's biggest strength is their backcourt. Last year's freshman sensation, 5'8 sophomore guard Jia Perkins, leads the team in scoring with 16.2 points per game. Perkins is more of a slasher than a perimeter threat, averaging only 29% from 3-point range. 5'9 sophomore guard Natalie Ritchie is the Red Raiders' leading 3-point shooter, hitting 39.3% of her long-range shots and averaging 2.4 three-pointers a game in less than 22 minutes per game.
6'0 senior guard/forward Amber Tarr (8.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg) is the second biggest 3-point threat, averaging 35.45 from 3-point range and almost two three-pointers per game. 6'1 senior forward Tanisha Ellison (5.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg) rounds out the likely starting lineup.
These two teams will present a contrast in styles. Vanderbilt is one of the best shooting teams in the country, hitting 56.7% of their shots from the floor, 45.2% from 3-point range, and 78.8% from the line. The Commodores rely on solid offensive execution and making the next pass to set up high percentage shots. The Red Raiders count on their athleticism, especially in the backcourt. They don't shoot as well, averaging only 40.4% from the floor, 34.5% from 3-point range, and 62.4% from the line, but they take on average 10 more shots again. Defensively, Texas Tech averages 10 steals a game, compared to 5.8 for the Commodores. Both teams will attempt to control the tempo, with Vanderbilt attempting to slow it down, while the Red Raiders will attempt to speed things up.
Gametime is 12:00 noon Saturday, This is a change from the previously announced time because the Alamo Bowl, which will also be held in Lubbock, starts at 2:30. Texas Tech has averaged over 13,000 fans for home games this year and traditionally enjoy a significant homecourt advantage, so attendance may turn out to be a key to the game. Officials have tried to encourage attendance at the game by encouraging fans who will not be able to attend to turn in their unused tickets so they can be re-distributed as well as changing the game time, but how successful these efforts will be remains to be seen.
Notes: Although the current players were only in elementary or middle school the last time that Vanderbilt met Texas Tech, long time fans might look on this game as a revenge game. Texas Tech, led by WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes, knocked the Commodores out of the NCAA tournament in the national semifinals. The following year, the #1/#2 Commodores were upset by #14 Texas Tech in an early season road game. In all, the Commodores are 0-4 against Texas Tech. . . . 5'11 sophomore forward Casey Jackson (6.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) missed the last game due to knee problems. Jackson has started in all 8 games that she's played in this year, but it is unknown whether she'll be available to play in Saturday's game.