Women's Hoops: WKU comments

The Vanderbilt women dominated Western Kentucky, 72-57, on Tuesday night. After the game head coach Melanie Balcomb, Carla Thomas and Liz Sherwood talked to the media.

The Press: Last year they shot 35 free throws and tonight they shot 30.

Coach Balcomb: And believe it or not, that's all I talked about at halftime -- not fouling, don't get them early in the bonus, don't stop the clock, we have a lead. Then we went out and fouled five times in the first five minutes. Only one of the fouls was a player that was shooting down low, which was Crystal [Kelly], so maybe I should have told them to foul. I don't know, they did absolutely opposite of what I talked about at halftime. Maybe it's one of those things when you say, "Don't do this," they have it in their head and they do it, but that was not the game plan obviously. And that put us in a tough situation. You're stopping the clock, and we were fouling out on the perimeter where they weren't even in shooting position. So we had to play smarter. What was nice is we were ready to play, one of the best first halves, probably the best first half, we've played all year on both ends of the floor, and then we lost our brains. We just didn't play smart in the second half.

The Press: It got scary there in the second half. You had three key players with four fouls and Western was really pressing.

Coach Balcomb: That happened last year, too. We all got in foul trouble. They made a run and cut it to ten, and we hit some big buckets that were important. But what's nice about that is that we won the game on defense. We continued to get stops. We continued to get them to turn the ball over, which was really important. We had looked on their stats, and if they didn't score 70 points a game, they had lost, and we held them to 57, and I think that was a really important key, that we continued to do that and do a better job on the boards because I was really worried about their second and third shots, which we struggled with in the first half.

The Press: Can you talk about the dominance your two post players gave you inside most of the night?

Coach Balcomb: I think Liz has gotten a lot better, and the fact she was ready to play tonight, it really really helped. She dominated early. We got Crystal Kelly in foul trouble early, Porter-Talbert in foul trouble early, so I think obviously is where we got a lead. But Carla came off the bench, and she has been really suffering from a concussion and not been practicing, so it was really nice for her to come in and step up and play really well. I mean, 10 boards and 14 points. She hasn't rebounded like that and she hasn't played since December 20.

The Press: You know they say a knock on the head sometimes helps somebody.

Coach Balcomb: Or not practicing. I don't want her to think that she's better if she doesn't practice. (Laughs.)

The Press: It really looked like she came in and asserted herself.

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, and very focused. I think at the end of the game, too, her confidence was really important to have her on the floor. I could see her face-we had a lot of young players in there that I took out, and I was subbing for who was going to aggressive, who was confident, who was going to put the ball on the floor, who was just going to stand there and hold it and try to throw over the trap and had fear in their eyes. And I thought Carla looked very confident on the floor, and that helped us a lot.

The Press: You say . . . (inaudible)

Coach Balcomb: No, she just started practicing yesterday, so she hadn't been on the court.

The Press: I saw that Rachel is wearing some kind of a sling.

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, she hurt her shoulder two days ago, so then we were down to two post players, so that's why Tina Wirth has been put in the post, so then we were at three, then Carla got cleared yesterday to start practicing, so that really helped out. The timing of Rachel going down and Carla coming back was very important for this game.

The Press: Do you have any sense of how long Rachel might be side-lined?

Coach Balcomb: No, it's not anything major, she doesn't require surgery or anything like that, a lot of it depends on how her rehab and her strength comes back.

The Press: How did she do it?

Coach Balcomb: It looked like she got elbowed in the paint by her teammates.

The Press: Given Western's presence in inside, did you expect to have the success offensively inside?

Coach Balcomb: To be honest with you, I thought we scored well last year. We couldn't stop them last year. I watched that tape three times this year. Last year probably about eight times, I was very frustrated after that game. My biggest concern was stopping them. I thought we could score. I'm very confident - and it doesn't have anything to do with Western - I think we can score on anybody. I think we have to do a better job defensively, and I've said that since I've been here, for four years.

I thought Western did a great job last year scoring on us, and so they were doing that early, and we switched our defense and played straight man the rest of the game. We didn't switch defenses the rest of the game and that changed the whole complexity of it, which is one of the reasons we did foul more. We haven't played straight man since - ever. But they've done a really good job against our matchups, against our zones, everything that we've done, and they were scoring early. After you saw them get some really easy baskets and they went up by one, we scratched what we were going to do defensively and just played straight man, and that seemed to really help.

The Press: Can you talk about Liz's presence this year? Does 28 points kind of speak for itself?

Coach Balcomb: Well, her blocked shots are more important than anything, that presence inside changes shots. Crystal Kelly is a great post player, obviously, her field goal percentage speaks for itself and her stats speak for themselves, and we were really concerned about her because of what she had done to us last year, she was very successful in the paint. I thought that Carla but especially Liz just coming over, I don't know how many blocks she had, but even if she didn't block it, she changed people's shots, especially Kelly, and I think that was a really important stat that we're not used to having. So we can run more man because if we do get beat on the perimeter, she can rotate over and challenge shots, and she's doing a much better job with that than she had early on in the year - because who wants to drive and shoot up over 6-5? We didn't have that last year, so we couldn't have gone that many minutes in man against them last year.

The Press: Offensively though whenever Western had a chance to claw their way back into the game, she was there and she was your answer.

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, definitely. And her and Carla just rebounding better, ten and six, neither one of them averages a lot of rebounds. We've big, but Tina Wirth leads us in rebounding, so I'm really pleased with them getting more rebounds.

The Press: Did you ever expect to win a game by 15 points when Caroline Williams doesn't score until the final minute?

Coach Balcomb: Well, I think the world of Porter-Talbert, and I knew she would chase her all night, I thought that was a no-brainer, and I thought that she was going to struggle, and that's why Holly got some looks, and I kept saying it was like last year, "Caroline, you're going to get chased all night, and you're going to get shots for Holly, like Abi got wide open looks for you." Holly was the ones with the looks that Caroline would get last year, and Caroline was going to have to earn every look, and in fact at the end, the one that she hit, Holly penetrated and got that for her by her penetration because Holly was attacking, and that's why I continued to play Holly.

Coach Balcomb left, and junior post Carla Thomas and sophomore post Liz Sherwood entered.

The Press: They've got 6-5 and 6-3 in the middle. Did you all think that you'd be able to be successful offensively in the paint.

Carla: Yeah.

Liz: Yeah.

Carla: Just because they didn't have a lot of depth in the post, and we knew that one of their post players was out, so we just wanted to try to attack and get them tired or get them in foul trouble, and we managed to do that early.

Liz: I just wanted to say what Carla said. Foul trouble made it so their best players had to sit on the bench, and then we could go on runs, so that was critical for us.

The Press: With you guys being really beat up in the post, and Carla coming back for the first time in a while, was there more pressure on you to step up for the game tonight?

Liz: I don't think there was more pressure. I think there's always pressure to step up, and I think I just played the way I'm expected to play.

The Press: Carla, you've been out for a while. Can you talk about your mindset and how it felt to be back in the game?

Carla: I think my mindset was most of all was just to come out aggressive and not worry about - the thing that probably bothered me most was conditioning because when you're out with a concussion, you can't do anything at all, so I was like two weeks not doing anything. It hurts you, but I wasn't that worried about it after I got out there just playing, and my team had a lot of confidence in me, just in terms of being aggressive and not playing as if I were hurt, and that helped a lot.

The Press: Carla, you say you wanted to come out aggressive. It looked like you were looking for your shot maybe more than you have at any point this season.

Carla: I think that's something that I've had to do for a while now. Like you said, I haven't looked for my shot as much this season, so that's something I had to make a conscious effort. When you have Liz in there, you do look to pass, but it's important when she gets double and triple-teamed that you look to score, too. And we knew that the double was going to come early, so I had to step up early.

The Press: You made it look easy in that run in the first half. What was going on there? You guys just seemed to score at will.

Carla: I think it's just what we're supposed to be doing. We played off of each other, and as a team we played off our defense. That's the way it's supposed to look, and everything flows together offensively and defensively.

The Press: So what happened in the second half?

Liz: I think the press kind of took us out of our rhythm, and, I don't know, we just can't allow presses to get to us.

Carla: And we came out kind of flat, in terms of being aggressive. We didn't have that same intensity we had in the first half, and then when the press came, we were more hesitant than we should have been.

The Press: Carla, were you all at all mindful of the way the game went last year at Bowling Green in the first half because it looked like every opportunity to . . . y'all did so. I think you were up 22 at one point in the first half and up 20 at the break, and it looked like you all were kind of blood thirsty there in the first half. Was that game at all a factor in this game?

Carla: It was a revenge game, plain and simple. They came into our house this time, and we had to make changes.

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