In Saturday's other semifinal, top-seeded LSU meets Georgia.
Carla Thomas recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, while point guard Dee Davis added 14 points. Abi Ramsey's seven points included the 1,000th point of her Vanderbilt career.
Two 3-pointers from sophomore guard Caroline Williams helped Vanderbilt jump out to an early 9-point lead at 12-3 and prompted Arkansas Head Coach Susie Gardner to call a 30-second timeout just four minutes into the game.
After that, the Ladybacks settled down and began to whittle into the Vanderbilt lead, as the game turned into a defensive struggle. Several Commodores turnovers allowed Arkansas to cut the lead to just three points at 14-11 with 12:16 left in the half.
A 3-pointer by Ramsey stopped the Razorback run, and the Commodores built the lead back up to eight points at 28-20 on a jumper by Thomas with 5:49 left in the half. But in less than a minute, a jumper by Sarah Pfeiffer and a 3-pointer by Sheree Thompson cut the lead back to just three points with 5:05 left.
For the next five minutes, the Arkansas defense held Vanderbilt to a single field goal, allowing the Razorbacks to tie the game at 30-30 with 1:26 left in the half. A jumper by sophomore guard Katie Antony completed the scoring for the half and gave the Commodores a narrow 32-30 halftime lead.
Arkansas's momentum carried over into the second half, with a 3-pointer from Rochelle Vaughn giving the Ladybacks their first lead of the game at 33-32 two minutes into the second half.
The lead switched back and forth until a tip-in by Pfeifer tied the game at 37-37 with 15:26 left. A layup by Earley gave the lead back to the Commodores, but this time, as it turned out, the lead would hold up for the rest of the game.
But it was far from easy. A 3-pointer from Cherish Stringfield restored the Vanderbilt lead to six points at 44-38 with 13:08 left, and from then on, the Ladybacks once again were facing an uphill struggle.
With ten minutes left and the score standing at 47-42, Arkansas saw a glimmer of hope. Thomas was whistled for an offensive foul, her fourth, and went to the bench. Soon after Ramsey picked up her third foul, and the resulting free throws by Kristin cut the lead to three points at 47-44.
But Davis scored on a driving layup, and an old-fashioned 3-point play by Earley and two more free throws by Earley stretched the lead back to ten points at with 8:28 left.
Arkansas trimmed the lead back to four points once more at 54-50 with 7:35 left. But the game soon began to slip away from the Ladybacks. After the Commodores scored nine points in the paint from Earley and Davis, Thomas re-entered the game. Then Williams delivered the dagger from the perimeter, a 3-pointer that gave Vanderbilt a 12-point lead at 66-54 with 3:12 remaining.
As time dwindled, the game became a free throw shooting contest. Arkansas began to foul with a purpose, sending a succession of Commodores to the free throw line. Davis hit three of four attempts. Antony hit two of two, Thomas hit one of two, and junior point guard Erica Grimald hit two of two, giving Vanderbilt a 74-57 lead with 1:37 left.
In the final minute Nicole Jules scored Vanderbilt's final five points of the game. Three of those points came on an old-fashioned 3-point play, and two of them on a layup on an inbounds play giving the Commodores a 22-point lead, their biggest lead of the night at 79-57. A 3-pointer by April Seggebruch for Arkansas ended the scoring.
POSTGAME PRESS CONFERENCE
Coach Balcomb: I think the big thing was Arkansas did a great job defensively. They really got us out of sync on offense and really did a good job trying to take away the low block. They doubled, they tripled, Ashley especially at the low block.
I think we down the stretch in the second half did a better job defensively and got some big stops when we needed to. And offensively, we slowed down, so I think in the second half we made some good changes and adjustments, but I have to give them a lot of credit. I thought they had a great plan and what to do and frustrated us a lot on offense, especially early on in the first half.
The Press: Melanie, when Arkansas was actually leading in the second half, what was the difference from that point on after they took the lead ?
Coach Balcomb: I think they were really confident because they made a run at the end of the first half, so I thought they were really confident, and they were still setting the pace defensively for that game. They were the ones who were being much more assertive and aggressive defensively, and we were still going real fast.
Sometimes we actually do better in the second half because we tire, and we can't go as fast, and sometimes it's to our advantage in the second, especially when they've been so physical like they were. We got tired, and we slowed down, which is to our advantage in the halfcourt.
The Press: Coach and players, how much of a benefit was it to be able to pull away and sit some folks down late in the game?
Coach Balcomb: We'll probably find out tomorrow, but hopefully-- I think it felt good because they know they didn't play 40 minutes, and sometimes like in the first half when they got in foul trouble in a close game, I kept thinking, well, if we can just pull this out, they're getting more rest than I probably would have given them because I was forced to sub a great deal in the first half.
The Press: Coach and players, how do you deal with playing a late game? You had all day today to anticipate the game. Can you talk about how you spent the day?
Ashley: What did we do? Just go through what we did today?
The Press: Yes.
Ashley: We got up. We had breakfast around 10. (Players laugh.) Then we proceeded to shoot-around. We got back and had a light lunch. We watched film. Then we went to the movies.
The Press: What did you see?
Ashley: We saw different things. Hitch. That's a great movie.
Ashley: Yeah, Diary of a Mad Black Woman. That's a great movie as well. A few others.
Ashley: What else did we do? Then we came back and then we had pre-game.
Dee: Went to sleep.
Ashley: Went to sleep. We had to get our rest. (Players laugh.) And then we had pregame.
The Press: Carla, can you tell us about your knee?
Carla: Well, I came done on a foot funny, and my knee kind of went outside a little weird. It was mainly me being scared about what it could possibly be. But they taped me up, and I was ready to go.
The Press: Dee, can you talk about the need to slow down offensively, just follow up on that?
Dee: I just go 100 miles per hour too much. Coach always tells me just to slow down and read the defense and see what we have. Today I made a few turnovers that I could have been a little bit more patient and made a better pass, but just slowing down makes you a little bit smarter. You can make a better pass slowing down.
Ashley: Dee wasn't the only one going fast. We were going really fast in the post, and Coach was talking about in the second half being tired. I can attest to that. She's probably talking about me. You tend to slow down because you're tired, and you make better reads.
The Press: But do you feel that plays to your advantage when it becomes a grind it out low post game?
Ashley: Oh yeah. You slow down and you're executing better. You have more patience. You can actually see the open person instead of going fast and making a bad pass or taking a bad shot.
The Press: Is this another situation where you all can gain some confidence from the fact that you didn't play one of your better games but you are still playing?
Ashley: Oh yeah, definitely. The first half was terrible, pretty much, and we were still up by two going into the second half, but we're mature enough at this point in the season to forget about the first half and start 0-0, and I think we did a great job coming out and out-working them in the second half because they are a scrappy team and a very good team. But we just out-worked them in the second half.
The Press: Melanie, any comments on tomorrow's game?
Coach Balcomb: I haven't had time to think about it. I'll be watching film all night. I think the first two games were competitive, and we'll look at what they did and we did and obviously try to come up with a little change in the game plan because we obviously didn't like the outcome of the first two games, but we'll spend a lot of time deciding what we want to do and how we're going to go about playing better than we did the first two times.