Women's Hoops: Vanderbilt to face Arkansas

The Vanderbilt Commodores advanced to the semifinals of the SEC women's tournament Friday night with a 55-39 victory over the Auburn Tigers

The Commodores' aggressive triangle and two defense and domination on the boards held the Tigers at bay from the opening tip-off. In the first twelve minutes of the game, Auburn managed only 2 field goals, missing 12 of their first 14 shots from the field, allowing the Commodores to establish a 17-4 lead with 7:53 left in the first half.

Auburn managed to trim the lead to 9 a couple of times before the first half was over, but each time Vanderbilt immediately countered. At halftime the Commodores held a 15-point advantage at 32-17.

Vanderbilt's defensive intensity carried over into the second half. The Commodores reeled off a 10-0 run to start the half to establish their biggest lead of the game at 25 points at 42-17 with 15:11 left in the game before Le'Coe Willingham broke the Tigers' scoring drought.

From then on, Vanderbilt coach Jim Foster substituted liberally. Every active player on the Vanderbilt roster saw playing time. Point guard Ashley McElhiney, who has averaged 35 minutes per game throughout the SEC season, left the game with 9:36 left in the half, giving reserve point guard Juli Colli one of her longest outings of the season.

Vanderbilt maintained a comfortable lead for the remainder of the game, but the unusual combinations of players on the floor resulted in a sometimes ragged offensive performance. Two three-pointers from Colli were Vanderbilt's only two field goals in the final 9 minutes of the game, and the usually efficient Vanderbilt offense only shot 28% from the floor in the second half. But the Commodores retained their defensive intensity. When the final horn sounded, they had held the Tigers to 39 points, their lowest point production of the season.

Vanderbilt was led in scoring by SEC Player of the Year Chantelle Anderson with 16 points, while Jenni Benningfield added 11. Zuzi Klimesova led the team in rebounds with 12, followed by Anderson with 9, and Benningfield with 7. Auburn was led by Le"Coe Willingham with 13 points. No other Tiger scored in double figures.

For the game, Vanderbilt shot 39.6% from the floor for the game compared to 29.2% for Auburn. For the Commodores, it was a tale of two halves as they shot 54.2% in the first half, but only 27.6% in the second. The Commodores dominated the boards 47-24, allowing Auburn only 4 offensive rebounds out of a possible 40 for the game. Auburn had fewer turnovers, with only 9 compared to 16 for Vanderbilt.

With the victory, the Vanderbilt advances to a semifinal matchup against the #7-seeded Arkansas Lady Razorbacks. The Ladybacks defeated Vanderbilt 67-57 in January in Bud Walton Arena in the previous matchup between the two teams. Arkansas earned the right to advance by defeating the #3-seeded South Carolina Lady Gamecocks 79-61 in the afternoon session.


Opening comments by Auburn Coach Joe Ciampi: Obviously, we played a very good team tonight, probably the best defensive team we've faced all year in terms of their defensive I.Q. They disrupt everything we want to do in terms of securing high percentage shots. They keep us off the boards rebounding, and they just do an outstanding job of throwing your offense into a shambles, really. I thought defensively for the size we are right now that we had to just put a crowd around Chantelle and just approach the game from an inside mentality -- which we did, but holding a great team like that to 55 points you have to generate some offense, and we never could generate an offensive flow. That's just a compliment to Vanderbilt.

The Press: Coach, you said last night you were going to pick your poison. They made a couple of outside shots early. Was that a worse case scenario for you?

Coach Ciampi: LIke I said, we were going to pick out poison. That was going to be the poison. They were going to have to extend and knock down a three because we were just not going to give Anderson and Klimesova good looks. We were going to try to crowd them. What were they, 4 for 17? But Chantelle does such a great job of moving, and Zuzi does such a great job of moving that they break you down by their action. They're always active, and they create. They outrebounded the heck out of us because of their constant movements. That's what really affected us. They play the game so hard and so smart, it's impressive. But that movement on offense, and Chantelle just draws attention down underneath, and Zuzi knows where to go to receive the ball in scoring position.

The Press: Coach, do you think your team played well enough defensively to win tonight, and for Le'Coe, could you talk about the differences between what you saw today versus what you saw yesterday?

Coach Ciampi: Just let me say this. Defensively, any time you hold a team under 60 points, you're expected to have an opportunity to win the game.

Auburn center Le'Coe Willingham: I think that they crowded the paint, and they gave us some outside shots, and we just had to knock them down. And tonight offensively, we just weren't in the flow, so tonight, they just crowded the paint on us and tried to take away our inside game.

The Press: Coach, how would you compare this game to the play at Vanderbilt last week?

Coach Ciampi: If you're in the business as long as I am -- What game? (pause) Comparatively speaking, seriously on Sunday they generated a lot of points quickly and at will. I felt tonight, they had 17 turnovers, I think we helped create some situations in the turnover aspect but I thought tonight we addressed our defensive mood, and we did some things to try to break it down. Whne you have so many weapons as they do, it's just like you said before, you have to chose and select your poison.

The Press: Coach, have you given any thought to the women's NIT outlook, and would you accept a bid if you were offered one?

Coach Ciampi: We'll talk about that tomorrow.

The Press: Jim, Coach Ciampi talked about your defensive IQ that your team has. How are you able to identify and maybe shut down some specific players the way it happened tonight?

Vanderbilt Head Coach Jim Foster: I think our players made very good decisions on who it was we were going to get after and who it was we were play off of, and who it was we want to keep the ball out of her hands. We have a great deal of respect for Willingham. We think she's a terrific player, and I thought we did a much better job of limiting her looks today. Our effort today was much more on the defensive end. And we felt that it's an area that we need to continue to improve on, and I think tonight we did a very good job defensively.

The Press: Coach, what can you say about the rebounding? Was that your concentration?

Coach Foster: Well, I think there were a lot of shots missed in this game, so there were a lot of rebounds to be had. We were very aggressive on both ends, both offensively and defensively and did a good job of not allowing them second shot opportunities.

The Press: Coach, the first half you shot 54% and the second half 28%. Is that a matter of concern?

Coach Foster: No.

The Press: Could you elaborate on that?

Coach Foster: It's just not a matter of concern. I mean, we played a lot of players, probably took a few more outside shots than we should have. But I think that through the course of the year, we've been a pretty good offensive team. And I wouldn't put -- we had some strange combinations on the floor.

The Press: Jim and the players, talk about the triangle and two, how effective it was against them?

Coach Foster: I think Zuzi did a great job of reading because she had multiple responsibilities in the framework, and she had to make some decisions about where to slide, who to guard. I think that two people matched up and played very aggressively and when it was time to switch, they made good intelligent switches, and just were smart players tonight on the defensive end of the floor.

Vanderbilt forward Zuzi Klimesova: Well, it is something we have been working on since January, and I think it's finally coming together and everybody knows where to go, and we're much better about communicating and reading where people are, because sometimes it can get tricky when you have three people outside, then all of a sudden somebody will cut in. I think since we have been playing it for a while, it's just finally coming together, and we are getting better at it.

Vanderbilt guard Ashley McElhiney: I guess I like this defense. We pick out the two people that have the capability of hurting us -- that's usually me and Jill -- and I think we play well off each other. The triangle people I think do a great job of communicating, and I think it's just something we're improving at every game.

The Press: Coach, you did mention that there were a lot of rebounds to be had. Could you talk for a minute about shot selection? Were players unable to get the shots they wanted? A lot of times there were shot clock violations . . .

Coach Foster: Auburn's the kind of team you need to be very patient against. You get looks against them early in offense, and the tendency a lot of teams have is to those early shots and you can't get into that rhythm and play their kind of basketball. You have to be a little more patient. You'll have an opportunity down the road, but they've historically been such a good defensive team and such a good rebounding team that you don't want to play the way they would like you to play. To our credit, I think we did a pretty good job of not doing that.

The Press: Chantelle, could you just talk about getting this first win under your belt in this tournament and advancing down the road?

Vanderbilt center Chantelle Anderson: I think we came out very well. It's always nice to win your first game. We don't want to be one of the teams that got upset. There've been a couple of upsets, and we didn't want to be one of those. And it's nice to be playing tomorrow. It's good for our team. We want to go as far in this tournament as we can, and hopefully still be playing on Sunday.

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