The game was close for only a couple of minutes. After a layup by Genia Holbrook tied the score at 6-6 two minutes into the game, Vanderbilt began to pull away. By the middle of the first half, the Commodores led by double digits on their way to a 20-point halftime lead at 46-26.
In the first five minutes of the second half, the Wolves trimmed the lead to 14 points, but never came closer than that. A 14-0 Vanderbilt run in the middle of the half gave the Commodores a 29-point lead at 75-46 with eight minutes left. Four 3-pointers by Mikala Fogle-Wilson in the final three minutes of the game helped trim the final margin of victory to 24 points at 92-68.
With the outcome of the game never in doubt, the main attractions were the first look at the team's newcomers and the first hints of how the team will replace the 30 points a game that were lost with the graduation of Ashley Earley and Abi Ramsey.
Two of the team's four freshman saw action in the game and two were sidelined. Amy Malo, a 6-3 post from Fairmont, Minn., and 5-9 freshman guard Jen Risper from Moreno Valley, Calif., are still rehabbing knee injuries suffered in the summer and didn't dress out for the game.
Holly Rogers, a 5-9 guard from Cleveland, Tenn., played 17 minutes off the bench, scoring five points with two assists and no turnovers.
Wirth, a 6-1 guard/forward from Mesa, Ariz., started in place of junior post Carla Thomas, who injured her knee in practice last week and hasn't been cleared to play.
By the time the game was over, Wirth had scored 20 points, hitting eight of her nine shots from the field, including three 3-pointers. She also had four assists with no turnovers and made her presence felt on the defensive end of the court.
"Our goal for each game is four charges, and we had seven today, and Tina Wirth had five of them," said Head Coach Melanie Balcomb after the game. One play in particular impressed the coach.
"She shot the ball from the baseline, missed it, and instead of hanging her head and standing there, she sprinted all the way down and got a charge on the opposite baseline," Balcomb said. "That kind of hustle, that kind of getting back after a miss, is something that makes everybody else hustle more and inspires everybody else to make those hustle plays."
The team's two transfers also saw plenty of action in the game. Rachel Brockman, a 6-3 post from Noblesville, Ind., first came to Vanderbilt in the fall of 2003, but left the team before the first exhibition game. She re-joined after last season with three years of eligibility remaining.
In Saturday's game, Brockman led the team with nine rebounds in 18 minutes of play off the bench. She also was a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line.
Liz Sherwood, a 6-4 post from Castle Rock, Colo., played her freshman season at the University of Connecticut, then transferred to Vanderbilt in the summer of 2004. In her first game as a Commodore, she scored 18 points while hitting eight of her nine shots from the field. She also pulled down eight rebounds.
But the most eye-popping performance of the afternoon came from 5-10 junior guard Caroline Williams, who scored 28 points while shooting 11-of-13 from the field. Williams led the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage last season, and she still is deadly from 3-point range, connecting on six of her eight attempts. But she's added new dimensions to her game.
"She's just reading the whole game better," said Balcomb. "She used to be really hesitant passing, just not confident, and she's so much more confident in the game because she's reading the game. She used to just run the offense and look to shoot, but now she's starting to read the game, and it's fun to watch."
With the first test run under their belt, the team will face their first real test when they travel to Tempe, Arizona, for the WBCA/BTI Classic next weekend. Besides being the first regular season game, it's also a homecoming game for Wirth.
"I just thought it would be a great opportunity for her, and I thought it would be a great opportunity for us as a team to play early," Balcomb said. "I thought with the returners that we had, this was the year we should play a preseason tournament. Then when I saw there could be one in Tina's back yard, I thought it would be great for her to go back right away to her family and friends and maybe get a crowd for us."
In the first game on Friday the Commodores will play the No. 18 Arizona State Sun Devils, the hosts of the tournament. On Saturday they will meet either Clemson or Missouri.
Photos copyright 2005 by Whitney D. for VandyMania.com