Commodores ready to tangle with Lady Grizzlies

Vanderbilt is back in the NCAA Tournament, and Melanie Balcomb's Commodores (22-7) held an open practice Friday in preparation for their nationally televised opening-round matchup with the Big Sky Conference champions, the Montana Lady Grizzlies (22-7). VandyMania's Whitney D. files this insider report, complete with photos, from Seattle, site of Saturday's first-round battle. <p> <I>Tipoff: 9:30 pm CT <BR>TV: ESPN2

SEATTLE, Wash.-- Although the tournament games will take place on the campus of the University of Washington, the teams are staying in hotels in downtown Seattle, a few miles south of the campus.

From the Crowne Plaza, it's six blocks downhill to the waterfront, which is filled with quaint and colorful shops and restaurants.

That's where you can find the original Starbucks, which still retains its original sign rather than the characteristic Starbucks logo which has spread from coast to coast. It's a premium location for street artists, the ones who are good enough to display signs asking for tips if you take photos.

March falls in the rainy season in the Northwest, but Saturday was a beautiful spring day, a perfect day for hanging out in the park.

The open practices preceding the first day off the tournament were held at the Bank of America Arena in the Hed Edmundson Pavillion on the UW campus, the same venue where the games will be played.

The women Huskies failed to make the NCAA tournament field, but the town is abuzz over the Husky men, who received a No. 1 seed and have moved on to the second round in Boise.

Inside the arena, Coach Balcomb, Ashley Earley, and Dee Davis took part in the practice day press conference required by the NCAA. One of highlights came when one of the reporters asked about Montana's 6-3 post player Holly Tyler, who is among the national leaders in blocked shots.

"What are some of the things you have to do to be effective against a player like that?" he asked.

"Obviously, I can't go into her; I have to go around her," Ashley replied. "Luckily, I do play in the SEC, and I've played against taller players every night."

He followed up with, "Have you had many shots blocked?"

"Occasionally," said Ashley matter-of-factly, "but I get the offensive board and put it back in."

Then it was on to the court for practice. Since the practices are required to be open to the public, teams stick to the basics.

With the team divided into two squads, one at each end of the court, the assistant coaches acted as defenders while the players ran through offensive drills. Assistant Coach Vicky Picott enjoyed giving Ashley a hard time.

ALF didn't participate in the practice, but only watched from the bench.

Meanwhile back in the media room, Montana's players and coach were in the midst of their press conference. Montana Head Coach Robin Selvig was asked to describe his team to fans who hadn't yet had the opportunity to see the Lady Griz play.

"We're big and strong in terms of our depth and size in the post," he said, "so I would say we're a team that tries to get the ball insides, and that's probably the basis of our offense.

"We probably have a defensive reputation more than anything else as a zone defensive team, though we've played a lot of man and a lot of zone this year, too.

"But what I hope to see, and what I hope people say when they see us is, 'Man, there's a team that plays hard,' and 'Boy, it's hard to get an easy basket on them" We pride ourselves in not giving up transition baskets, which is a big part of Vanderbilt's offense."

Back on the court with just a few minutes left in the practice session and all the structured drills over, a 3-point shoot-off between Abi Ramsey, Caroline Williams, and Director of Basketball Operations Kornell Battle spontaneously arose.

After sinking baskets from the "Bank of America" logo, they moved on to the big W at center court. Abi missed this shot . . .

. . . but she nailed this one.

With that, the practice that served as an appetizer for fans was over. The main course will be served Saturday night when the Commodores meet the Lady Griz at approximately 9:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2.

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Photographs copyright 2005 by WhitneyD for

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