Women's hoops: Vandy stops EA Sports, 81-72

Vanderbilt defeated EA Sports 81-72 Thursday night for its second exhibition win of the season. Four Commodores scored in double figures, led by Ashley Earley's 19 points and 18 rebounds. Jenn Hall scored 16 points off the bench, Carla Thomas added 15, and Dee Davis had 12.

EA Sports, a barnstorming all-star team of former college players, brought some familiar faces to Memorial Gym. Brandi McCain, the former Florida guard, led the visitors with 21 points, while Courtney McDaniel, a former Lady Vol, had 15 points. Other former SEC players included India Lewis, a former Lady Razorback and Tonya Washington, another former Gator.

Vanderbilt jumped out to a very early lead when sophomore guard Katie Antony nailed a three pointer from the corner less than 10 seconds into the game. The early lead didn't last long, however, as the visitors took a 5-3 lead a minute later on a 3-pointer by Maria Conlon, the point guard of the 2004 national champion UConn Huskies.

After that, Vanderbilt trailed for most of the first half, falling behind by as much as 8 points. The Commodores took the lead back briefly for a few minutes on a free throw from sophomore post Nicole Jules and a jumper from the high post by Thomas. But the visitors countered with a 3-pointer to tie the game at 27-27 and held the Commodores off for the remainder of the half, and EAS took a 38-34 lead into halftime.

The second half looked like a different game. Senior guard Abi Ramsey opened up the half with a 3-pointer, her first points of the game, and started off a 10-0 run fueled by Vanderbilt's energized defense. A basket by EA Sports' Mary Cofield interrupted the run, but then Vanderbilt reeled off 9 more straight points to take a 59-45 lead with 11 minutes left in the game.

Dee Davis sinks a 3-pointer to give Vandy an 8-point lead in the final minutes of the game.
After that, Vanderbilt never lost the lead, but the visitors kept the game interesting, eventually whittling the lead down to just two points at 69-67 with four minutes left. After Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb called a time out, a basket from Hall gave the Commodores a little breathing room. But the visitors kept hanging around, and a 3-pointer from McCain, her fifth of the night, cut the Vandy lead to just 5 points with 31 seconds left.

Then EA Sports called a timeout. Coming out of the timeout, Thomas broke downcourt and scored on a long pass over the defense by Earley. Then Davis sank two free throws to seal the 81-72 victory for the Commodores.

For the game, Vanderbilt shot 43.8% from the field, improving from 36.8% in the first half to 51.4% in the second half. EA Sports shot 48.3% from the game, including 10 of 27 3-pointers. The Commodores held the edge on the boards 44-35 and had fewer turnovers with only 11 compared to 20 for the visitors.

The game was the final exhibition for the Commodores. Next action is the first game of the regular season against St. Francis (PA) on Friday, November 19, in Memorial Gym. The game will be the opening game of a double header, beginning at 5:00 p.m., with the men's team playing Toledo 30 minutes after the women's game ends.

Post-Game Comments

The Press: Jenn really gave you a lift off the bench, especially in the second half.

Coach Balcomb:Year, that's what we've been waiting for, is for Jenn to have that breakthrough game, and I'm hoping she builds some confidence. But she did a great job, like you said, especially on the boards. She gave us positive energy off the bench, and we just need more of it. We need a couple of more players to develop like that. We need to have a bench that comes in and maintains the lead and the intensity.

The Press: Are you happy to see Ashley demanding the ball late and getting in on everything like she did tonight?

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, 18 boards and 19 points. She carried us. She's that kind of workhorse in practice every day. I think she's going to bring up other people's level of their game, and everybody needs to start to practice like Ashley does. The rewards are great. But that's the effort she's been giving us every single day. I'm not surprised. I've just loved to see her confidence, like you say, actually demanding the ball and wanting the ball and knowing what she can do with it once she gets it.

She's always been that good; it's just that we've always thought she's been better than she thought, and now she's starting to build some confidence. It's her senior year, and she wants this year to be special.

The Press: I think it was a 19-2 run out of the locker room, really driven by the fast break. What did you have to change?

Coach Balcomb: We had to change our intensity on defense, our ball pressure. We got all those transition baskets off our defense. We created 2-on-1s, 3-on-2s. We created numbers because of our steals and our ball pressure and our intensity defensively. We had to get five people working hard at the same time, and we didn't have that. We were very inconsistent. We were making mental mistakes. There was always one person in the wrong defense, or one person not working hard, and at halftime we finally got them to all get on the same page at the same time, and they worked hard for those three minutes, and that was the difference in the game. But they've got to maintain it for a longer period of time than that.

The Press: Did you feel like they were out-physicalling you in the first half?

Coach Balcomb: No, because I wasn't really focusing on them, so it might have been something, but I was focusing so much on us and our lack of intensity and physical play and being able to do the things that I thought we should be able to do. I wasn't really focused on what they were doing to us, but they could have been.

The Press: Katie Antony comes out hits a big three, misses a few, then came out later in the game and hit another. Is that an aspect of her game that you're wanting to see more of?

Coach Balcomb: Yeah. We want her to shoot the ball, but we'd like her nearer the 3-point line. She's taken shots from so far out, that's the problem. I don't know with the two lines on the floor - but she's way behind that second line, so that's one of the things. When she's up near that line, which she practiced all summer and has really improved individually, she's going to be taking that shot this year, and I think she'll be successful. But for some reason, she got herself out so wide that she was out of her range. She was shooting too deep and didn't make an adjustment until the end.

The Press: Kind of lost in the shuffle is the job that Carla did tonight. She finished up with 15 points, might not have been as present on the boards as you would have liked, but talk about what she did.

Coach Balcomb: I think the biggest thing with Carla is that she made an adjustment at halftime. I think she was struggling in the first half, missed some easy baskets inside. She was avoiding contact and fading away and not extending on her shot, and we talked to her at halftime, and she made the adjustments. She extended, made some nice moves. Also she started demanding the ball and was more aggressive. That's the way Carla played last year. She had a tough time getting going and got more aggressive in the second half, and we need her to get going right away this year.

Coach Balcomb left, then senior forward Ashley Earley, sophomore center Carla Thomas, and sophomore forward Jenn Hall took their places at the press conference table.

The Press: Ashley, it seemed like you were demanding the ball. Did you feel more assertive than you have in past years?

Ashley Earley led the Commodores with 19 points and 18 rebounds.
Ashley: Yeah, I think so. The coaches make a point, especially in practice, for us to be more aggressive as post players and to call for the ball. I know last game and in practice a little bit, we've been struggling with our post passing in order for us to help the guards out a little bit, but we've been told and have been practicing more, communicating and calling for the ball.

The Press: You had good results; the three of you combined tonight for 50 points. Did you anything tonight that made you think the inside game was going to be that productive?

Ashley: I think it's just us being aggressive. We've been working a lot on that n practice. We've been focusing on that as post players - to look for our shot when we get the ball, and tonight we were just able to get position and score and capitalize on it.

The Press: Jenn, it looked as though the more time you were in, the more confident you became. Could you talk about the progression of your game over the time that you were in?

Jenn: Yeah, I felt when I got in there the first time, I really needed to step up. I've been feeling since last year over to this year that I need to come in and be a threat, be someone to come in and be able to contribute. Last year I didn't contribute as much as I would have liked to, so it was one of my goals to get in there and be a threat and try to keep the score up when you give the starters a rest.

The Press: Later in the game, I heard you calling for the ball, too.

Jenn: Yeah. I've got a little more confidence down there. We've been working on it a lot in practice. It's really been helping.

Ashley: Jenn's been working hard in practice the last couple of days, and I think that's just confidence showing from practice in the game.

The Press: Carla, how much better was this game as a test than the first exhibition was?

Carla: I think it was more of a mental test to prove that we could improve upon the last game and keep getting better, keep working hard, getting ready for the season, especially putting together two solid halves.

The Press: Carla, did you feel like this game might have been more physical than the last one?

Carla: I think if it was more physical, we matched that, especially in the second half, and especially bumping cutters and meeting the pass and trying to be as aggressive as they were and matching their intensity and outlasting their intensity.

Ashley : I feel like we were actually more intense this game, a lot more, than last game. I think that might be more what you see. We were more aggressive on offense, going to the basket in the post especially and on the perimeter the guards had a few drives.

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Photos copyright 2004 by WhitneyD for Vandymania.com.

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