VU defense swarms over Colgate

VJunior post Carla Thomas scored 24 points and pulled down eight rebounds to lead Vanderbilt to a 72-33 victory over the Colgate University Raiders in the champions hip game of the Thanksgiving Tournament on Saturday afternoon. Afterwards, Thomas, who scored 18 points in Vanderbilt's win over Charleston Southern on Saturday, was named MVP of the tournament. Junior guard Caroline Williams and sophomore post Liz Sherwood were named to the all-tournament team.

In the first few minutes of the game, there was no hint that the final score would turn out to be so lopsided. Colgate scored the first basket of the game just a few seconds after tip-off on a fastbreak layup by Gretchen Polinski. A minute later, a steal by Megan Ballard led to another fastbreak layup to give Colgate a 4-0 lead. After a couple of Vanderbilt baskets to tie the score, a 3-pointer by Ball ard gave CU a 7-4 lead with at the 17:38 mark.

As it turned out, that would be the last bucket for CU for a long time. A free throw by Dee Davis and a layup by Liz Sherwood tied the game at 7-7. Then Vanderbilt scored 26 more straight points before a jumper by Polinksi with four minutes left in the half broke the long scoring drought for Colgate. In that 13 minute span, the Commodore defense forced nine turnovers and blocked seven shots.

That big run put the game out of reach for the Raiders. They were able to score a couple of more baskets before the half ended, but so were the Commodores, making the halftime score of 39-13.

In the second half, Colgate was unable to cut into the Commodore lead, which cont inued to grow until it reached 44 points at 70-26 late in the game. In the final minutes of the game, the Raiders were able to whittle down the deficit to the final score of 72-33.

In a game in which Vanderbilt's opponent shot only 21% from the field and 8.7% from 3-point range and in which the Commodores blocked ten shots and forced 23 turn overs, one might assume that Head Coach Melanie Balcomb was very pleased with the team's defensive effort.

That assumption would be wrong, however.

"I think our defense was okay in spurts," she said after the game. "I think the big thing is we've got to get more consistent with it."

The most glaring problem was that the Raiders attempted 23 shots from 3-point range. "They were 2 for 23, but they had some wide open looks, and when you're up 20 or whatever, you're not so concerned whether they make them or not, you're concerned that your defense gave up wide open looks," said Balcomb.

"Last night, they hit those," she said. "They didn't hit 'em tonight, but they did have some wide open looks from 3 . . . we can't afford to give up the looks that we gave. We also can't afford to give up the rebounding, the checking out, those are two things we definitely will be working on hard the next two days."

Offensively, the game wasn't always a thing of beauty, either. Vanderbilt's shoot ing percentage fell from 68% in the first half to 48% in the second half. The Commodores forced 23 turnovers, but they also committed 21 turnovers of their own, 13 of those coming in the second half.

"I think we got really sloppy on offense, but I would like to give [Colgate] credit," Balcomb said. "I think they really picked up their intensity. They didn't quit.

"We weren't taking care of the basketball. They were grabbing the ball right out of us, and I think we got a little complacent with the lead we had and then they got more aggressive. I think they had a lot to do with why it got ugly."

But there were some positives, too.

"When we got flat and we were turning the ball over, and I think they had a lot of momentum, the positive was that Carla got very aggressive on offense and wanted the basketball and played very strong," said Balcomb.

"And Dee picked up her aggressiveness on defense and got very strong on defense," she continued. "And Caroline Williams - every play is important to her, and she had the work ethic of a leader. So you have the three people that you can count on really stepped up. It happened to be Carla on offense, Dee on defense, and Caroline just working as hard as she always does consistently. Those are the three people I needed to step up, and did. That I'm very pleased with."

With the victory, Vanderbilt improves to 5-1 on the season. Next, the Commodores go on the road. On Wednesday night, they travel to Raleigh, North Carolina, to play the North Carolina State Wolfpack, who defeated the Commodores 65-64 last season in Memorial Gym. Then on Sunday they'll play Old Dominion in Norfolk, Virginia, before returning home to play Northern Arizona on December 8.

Photos copyright 2005 by Whitney D for

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