The contest began in typical SEC style, with both teams playing tenacious defense on one of the court and having difficulty establishing rhythm offensively on the other hand. Alabama scored the first points of the game, but Vanderbilt claimed the lead at 5-4 on a 3-pointer by Jillian Danker with 16:45 remaining. Though the teams wrestled neck-and-neck for much of the first half, the Commodores never fell behind for the remainder game.
The story of the first half was defense and senior leadership. After the Commodores' disappointing loss in South Carolina two weeks ago, Coach Jim Foster has blasted the seniors, attributing the team's "soft" performance on the road to a lack of senior leadership. Thursday night, the seniors carried the team on their shoulders. Of the 30 points Vanderbilt scored in the first half, the team's seniors combined for 24 of them -- 14 from Zuzi Klimesova, 8 from Jillian Danker, and 2 from Candice Storey. Defense was a team effort, as the Commodores held Alabama to only 24 first half points.
Alabama kept the game close for the first half, but after the Crimson tied the game at 15-15 with 11:08 remaining on a 3-pointer by Beth Vice, Vanderbilt began to pull away. An 8-0 run gave Vanderbilt §an 8-point lead, their biggest lead of the first half, with 5:33 remaining. Alabama chipped away, and at halftime the score stood at 30-24.
The second half featured better offensive execution by the Commodores. After shooting 42.9% in the first half from the field, their shooting improved to 58.3% in the second half. At the same time, the Commodore defense maintained its intensity, as Alabama's field goal percentage fell from 42.3% in the first half to 39.6% in the second half.
Coffee County native Katie Sipe scored the first basket of the second half, cutting Vanderbilt's lead to 4. But after that, it was all Commodores. A basket by Klimesova gave the Commodores their first double digit lead of the game at 39-28 with 15:21 remaining. Ashley Earley's layup with 8:37 remaining pushed the lead past 20 for the first time at 56-35.
After that, Alabama managed to cut the lead back to 16 at 62-46 with 3:33 left, but then could not score another point the rest of the game, as the Commodores finished the game on a 7-0 run to reach the final score of 69-46.
Three Commodores scored in double figures, led by Zuzi Klimesova and Chantelle Anderson with 17 points each, followed by Jillian Danker with 11 points. Danker scored the 1000th point of her Vanderbilt career on a 3-pointer late in the first half. Klimesova was leading rebounder with 11 for her XXXX double double of the season, while Ashley Earley added 6. Ashley McElhiney led in assists with 4.
LaNisha Cartwell led the Crimson Tide in scoring with 13 and was their only player to score in double figures. Jamilah Johns was leading rebounder with 6.
For the game, the Commodores shot 50% from the field, compared to 39..6% for Alabama. The Commodores out-rebounded the Tide 33-31. Vanderbilt scored 18 points off 17 Alabama turnovers, while Alabama scored only 6 points off 12 Vanderbilt turnovers.
The Commodores (17-3, 3-1 SEC) next travel to Athens for a game against the #16-ranked Georgia Lady Bulldogs. Gametime is 2 p.m. CT, and the game will be televised on ESPN2.
Post Game Comments
The Press: After the South Carolina, you attributed Vandy's soft performance on the road to lack of senior leadership. Are things now heading in the direction you think they should be:
Vanderbilt Coach Jim Foster: Ask the seniors.
The Press: Well, senior?
Zuzi Klimesova: Well, Jillian and I have taken that comment very personally and we have been trying to do everything that we felt we had not been doing in the past to get the team closer together. And it was worked out so far. I'm knocking on wood.
The Press: When Shondra Johnson went out, did that change the game and how youplayed?
Coach Foster: Well, you play the season and different things happen and you have to adjust. I thought for us to walk s with a 6-point lead at half, I thought our defensive effort was terrific. We really didn't get into our offense the way we would like to in the first half, and I think we settled down in the second half. I thought Alabama really came after us, and I just thought we were a little more patient and executed a little bit better in the second half. But our defense kept us in the game, and Zuzi scored in the first half to make up in the low post for not having Chantelle present.
The Press: How much easier was it without Shondra Johnson on the floor?
Coach Foster: Well, I think we were ahead signnificantly lwhen she went out. I thought we had made our run and had played very well with her on the floor. They become obviously a different team, but they seem to go inside more and seem to have success. I just think it's still an evolving basketball team that has a lot of weapons,. I think that Vice and Sipe can shoot the three, and they were the focus today. We were very focused on them and a penetrator like Johnson, she's going to get to spots and you've gotta be there to cover down on the shooters and I think that's what we did very well.
The Press: Jenni Benningfield played 23 minutes off the bench today. Can you talk about what she brings to the court when she comes off the bench?
Coach Foster: Well, today I think she came into the game and gave us a lot of little things. She made some shots which I think she'd been struggling a little bit.. She rebounded the ball a little bit better, she helped us revese the ball, pass the ball a little bit better. She did some good things. We have good players. Juli Colli came in and did some good things for us. Abi Ramsey I think did a grreat job defensively. I'm not hesitant to go this bench. And it's going to vary from game to game really who's going to help us, We have players that have different strengths and attributes, We'll pull them out of there.
The Press: Zuzi, would you say this is the most physical game you've played?
Zuzi: Well, I cannot remember an SEC game that was not physical. You got into these games, especially on the road, and you don't get as many calls as you would like -- or possibly deserve -- but you've just got to overcome it, and I think we have done a good job, as well as not fouling them because they were very quick when they beat us off the dribble -- especially me -- but we have gone a good job of helping each other out and not fouling and putting them on the line.
The Press: It seems like Vanderbilt has learned to respond better to a physical game than in the past.
Coach Foster: Yes, I do. We'll dance, whatever the dance.
The Press: Do you think that other teams plan to go after you in a physical way to take you out of your game?
Coach Foster: I think there's a perception that "Vanderbilt can't be intimidated. I like the fact that someone who has watched these games over the yaers thinks that we're getting a little different edge to us.
The Press: Are you thinking about the SEC standin