Vanderbilt Women Advance with win over N Carolina

The Vanderbilt Commodores advanced to the Elite 8 with a 70-61 win over the North Carolina Tarheels Saturday night in the Midwest Regional semifinals in Ames, Iowa.

Four Commodore starters scored in double figures, led by Chantelle Anderson with 22. Jenni Benningfield and Ashely McElhiney had 13 each, and Jillian Danker had 12. Zuzi Klimesova scored only 6 points, but pulled down 10 rebounds. Coretta Brown led North Carolina with 19, followed by Candice Sutton with 12.

The game was not a thing of beauty. North Carolina Coach Sylvia Hatchell, inspired by tapes of the Arkansas and LSU game in the SEC tourney, decided to follow their lead and get very physical with Chantelle Anderson. The strategy worked -- sort of. Anderson usually make a living from layups in the low post, and North Carolina's game plan shut that down. But the fly in the Tar Heel ointment was that UNC's physical play sent Anderson repeatedly to the foul line, where she knocked down 14 of her 16 attempts.

On the other side, Vandy's triangle and two defense left the Tar Heels muttering over the fact that their shots just weren't falling. Nikki Teasley, thought by many to be a likely first round WBNA draft pick, shot 1 of 14 from the field. Coretta Brown, the ACC's leading 3-point shooter, hit only 2 of 9 attempts from 3-point range.

Even though Vandy claimed the lead for good at the 15:05 mark of the first half, the outcome was in doubt until the final minutes of the game. For most of the first half, the Commodore lead was about 5 points. But two Vanderbilt three-pointers, one by Zuzi Klimesova with the shot clock about to expire and one by Jillian Danker, gave Vanderbilt a 12-point lead going into halftime at 35-32.

But the game was far from settled. The Tar Heels started off the second half with 6 straight points to cut the Vandy lead to 6 at 38-32. Jenni Benningfield's third 3-pointer of the game put an end to the Tar Heel run, but Leah Metcalf countered with a 3-pointer on the other end. North Carolina continued to chip away until the Commodore lead had been cut to 2 points at 42-40 with 13:08 left in the game.

The game hung in the balance. For a couple of minutes, neither team could score as they traded missed baskets. Then a couple of Commodore offensive rebounds, one by Ashley Earley and one by Klimesova, eventually resulted in a jumper by Chantelle Anderson to push the lead back up to 4 at 44-40 with 10:35 remaining. A clutch 3-pointer by Ashley McElhiney with 7:35 remaining briefly gave Vanderbilt an 8-point lead at 51-43, but Coretta Brown quickly answered with a 3-pointer of her own. Shortly afterwards, a 3-pointer from Metcalf cut the lead back to 4 at 53-49 with 6:24 remaining.

But that was as close as the Tar Heels would get. From that point on, there was a constant parade of Commodores to the free throw line. A basket by Klimesova with 3:04 remaining was the only Vandy field goal in the last six minutes of the game. During that stretch, Vandy shot 20 free throws, making 15 of them. In the meantime, North Carolina didn't hit a field goal until there were 25 seconds left in the game, when two UNC 3-pointers cut the final deficit below double digits. When the dust finally cleared, Vanderbilt had gritted out a 70-61 victory.

Vanderbilt shot 60% from the floor in the first half, but only 32% in the second half. UNC was more consistent, hitting 34% in the first half and 33% in the second. The Commodores shot 44.4% (8 of 18) from 3-point range compared to 23.8% (5 of 21) for UNC. Vanderbilt on the battle on the boards 40-35, but lost the turnover battle, with 18 turnovers, compared to only 9 for Carolina.

The win puts Vanderbilt on a collision course with the Tennessee Lady Vols, who defeated Brigham Young 68-57 in the other semi-final. The game will mark the third meeting of the teams this season. In the previous games, each team won on their home court. Gametime is 8 p.m. Central Time, and the game will be televised on ESPN/ESPN2.

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