Coach Balcomb: It was a good surprise, but it was a surprise. They beat Ole Miss at Ole Miss, and we lost there last year. It's a tough place to play. That's the first SEC game and on top of that, that's their rival game, so anything can happen in those games, but my gosh. I really liked how our kids responded, obviously to come out 14 to nothing. We've responded really well after losses, and it's good to see our energy and being ready to play. But I wish we wouldn't have to lose to have that. I wish we could do that more consistently. I know that's because we have a lot of young players, and they're playing a lot, and it's hard for young kids to be consistent. We've just got to get more consistent.
The Press: Coach, Dee only played eight minutes in the first half and didn't return. Why?
Coach Balcomb: She had a knee injury. She hurt her knee yesterday, so we were only going to play her if we needed her. We just saved her pretty much.
The Press: Serious?
Coach Balcomb: Not real serious. We started her.
The Press: With them only having only two players over 6-1, did you feel like you'd be able to work in the middle?
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, but I think we learned a lot from the last game. We had that same advantage against Arkansas, and we tried to go to it too quickly and too often, so we made a lot of adjustments from that game. We learned a lot from that game, and we really tried to get a lot more ball reversals and share the basketball more before we went in instead of just harping on that fact that they don't have anybody much over six foot, we've gotta bang it in, and their defense ready for that. So I really liked the way we went fast to slow. We have great shot selection. We knew when to take the open shot and when to run our offense, and I think we did that better than we've done that all year.
The Press: Holly got the start tonight. Can you talk about that?
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, Holly's gotten better every game. I love how she's developing. I think she reads the game real well. She's doing a lot of things that we're teaching. She's playing with confidence, and I thought it would be a good time. I usually change the lineup after we lose. If we win, if it's not broke, don't fix it, but then when it's broke, I think you've gotta fix it, and one of the things I look to do is change the lineup, so that gave us an opportunity to get her in the starting lineup because she had been playing very well and was the first guard coming off the bench at that point.
The Press: And late in the game, she played some point?
Coach Balcomb: Yes. With Dee out, she's been working some at point -- for a day. (Laughter.) She played some point in high school, and she played some maybe the first week of practice, but actually she did a really good job. We went through plays today instead of shooting at shoot-around because we didn't know if Dee would be able to play at all in time, so it really was a gametime decision. It wasn't one of those phony things you hear a lot. We didn't know because she hadn't seen the doc, and we didn't know if it would make sense to play her, how it would feel until she went through warm-ups. So I did get the green light to play her and just chose to play her as needed, and it was nice that we didn't have to go back to her after we got the lead.
But I'm excited Holly. She just reads the game really well, and she's not afraid to handle the basketball. She keeps her dribble nice and low and sees things and always has her head up.
The Press: The person that she replaced in the starting lineup . . .
Coach Balcomb: Tina? Yeah, I talked to Tina. Last game Tina played 17 minutes, and I don't think she had a stat. I think she had one rebound and was 0 for 3. She barely had a stat and was just starting to really blend, like really become non-aggressive. So what I told her was, I was going to not start her and bring her off the bench, and I wanted her to fight for her starting spot back. Tina should be taking 5 to 8 shots a game, and she's not even getting shots, so to get her more aggressive, I told her I was going to bring her off the bench and have her fight for that spot. Even in shoot-around, she was so much more aggressive, looking for shots, rebounding, crashing the boards, and doing all these things.
That was great to see because I didn't want to bring her off the bench and not get anything, but I thought that would make her more aggressive. And if I could get Tina more aggressive, it makes us better. So she made me look like a really good coach and like I made a really good decision because it did make her more aggressive. She's very competitive, so she needs to compete for her spot back. In order to do that, she's gotta be more aggressive.
The Press: So who starts the next game?
Coach Balcomb: We won, so don't fix it. No change. Holly would have to really make me mad in practice or something. We'll go with the way we went tonight because we came out 14-0 and looked good, and Holly was ready to play. She almost ran out on the court when they announced the other team's starting lineup, but other than that -- (chuckles). That's why at times we're inconsistent. We're counting on freshmen, and they're going through all kinds of things at school. Like Tina got way better when classes ended because then she wasn't thinking about class. Things just change because everything's new, and that's why you've got to count on your upperclassmen, and we don't really have a lot of upperclassmen, and the ones we do, they have to be consistent. Freshmen are fun to have around. They keep it interesting.
The Press: One of those upperclassmen comes off the bench and goes 5 for 5 from the floor.
Coach Balcomb: Jules? Nicole Jules is putting the ball in the hole. She's being very consistent. Absolutely. She has great knowledge of what we're doing, playing hard. I tell them all the time -- it's not who starts, it's who finishes. And Nicole Jules finished the game at Arkansas, and that's because of her defense and consistency. I know what she's going to give you whereas other players are inconsistent.
The Press: Liz didn't finish that game. Talk about in light of the fact that she didn't play the latter part of the second half and the overtime in Fayetteville, what you thought of her tonight.
Coach Balcomb: We spent a lot of time with Liz, and again, this is her first year playing here, so she's inconsistent, and she's inconsistent in the same way Tina is, just in being aggressive and wanting the basketball and not hiding, existing out there and letting somebody else do. And so we talked to her a lot about how she should be dominating and what she should be doing and what her role should be. We watched film, we talked to her, we did a lot of things on the court with the team, and she just came out at practice the past two days and made huge changes and responded really well. I had no doubt she'd play well tonight. We've gotta keep that consistent. We can't have to lose every time to make people make changes. We have to that consistent effort, win or lose.
The Press: What happened to Dee at practice? How did the injury occur?
Coach Balcomb: In an anticipation drill, she was moving laterally and just tweaked it. She had an MRI last night so we didn't know until today.
The Press: No damage or anything like that to it?
Coach Balcomb: Not that I know of. Everything in the MRI is inconclusive because you really-- they really don't know. What's nice is nothing serious like the cartilage or anything, which we were worried about, like a piece being off. We knew it wasn't an ACL, but it could have been a couple of other things.
The Press: You'll play it by ear each game?
Coach Balcomb: Yes, see how much it swells, see how she feels tomorrow, so the more I could save her today, the more it helps us.
The Press: Obviously in a 39-point ball game, it's easy to lose a kid going over the 1000-point mark.
Coach Balcomb: Yeah, that's something that we could talk about. Carla played well tonight. She had great confidence tonight. I really liked how she played, yet -- I don't know how many points she ended up with, but she made some of the nicest passes of the night. She made the extra pass, put it in the shooting pocket. I told her in the next game maybe she'd be point guard, and she laughed. She jokes about that -- she's a guard in a post's body. She really enjoys the perimeter, and she's an unselfish player, and I thought she played very smart tonight. I liked how she played, and I really liked her energy on defense, Again, she was very consistent tonight. I'm excited for her to get her 1000th point obviously because she has worked hard and been a big part of this program since the day she walked in here her freshman year and has a lot to do with our success -- and we're hoping for a lot more points in the next two years. For somebody to get it their junior year, that's impressive, especially at a level like this in the SEC and so early in her junior year.
Coach Balcomb left, and junior post Carla Thomas and sophomore post Liz Sherwood came in for questions.
The Press: Carla, you went over a thousand points in your junior year. Does that kind of put your career in perspective in any way?
Carla: I don't know -- I think to a certain extent it does because it doesn't happen too often, but I think I might say that after I score 2,000 if that ever happens. A thousand -- there are a lot of people out there who have done it. It's not too huge yet, but 2,000's kind of cool.
The Press: Liz, coach said that recently they talked to you about your role, watched film and talked about changes you needed to make. Could you talk about that?
Liz: Coach just basically told me that I needed to step up and for us to do well, I need to be a major part of that and contribute every night. I can't just wait for other people to do it, and I need to be more assertive and then things fall into place.
The Press: How do you feel about that?
Liz: It's a challenge, but I've kind of embraced it, and I'm starting to like it more.
The Press: Do you find that being a new person in the program, sometimes first year players are hesitant to say, "Give me the ball!"?
Liz: Yeah. I kind of catch myself doing that sometimes, and that's what coach was talking to me about. I can't do that any more. I'm just as important as anybody else on the team, and I need to be assertive and do everything I can to help the team win.
The Press: At the same time, isn't that what you came here for?
Liz: Yeah. So it's stupid, right? (Laughs.) That's basically what she told me, okay? I was trying to be nice. (Laughs.) Yeah. I came here to be a big part of this team, and I need to do that.
The Press: You two are in a similar position in that you're both very talented players but you have somebody else in the post with you who is also a very talented player.
Liz: I think we have enough confidence in each other that if one of us is having a bad night, the other one will step up or we can play off each other. We're getting better at that. I think we're getting more confidence in that.
Carla: I think that's something that Vanderbilt's always had. Since I've been here, if I'm having an off-night there's not so much pressure on me because I know Liz is going to step up, and last year it was Ashley and the year before it was Jenni was stepping up in that role as well, so it kind of takes the pressure off of you.
The Press: Carla, were you surprised you were able to blow the lid off an SEC game like that so easily?
Carla: Yes. I think that early lead was expected because we wanted to come out with that fire and intensity that we haven't had in a while, but to blow it out that much early in the first half and to get that many points and the lead, I wasn't expecting that.
The Press: Liz, did you expect the shots to come as easily as they did? You hit the first six and I'm not sure that any of them were really contested.
Liz: I was working to get good position and just going to the basket, and when you don't fade away, you don't have to shoot over people, so it made easier shots.
Carla: It was something that she worked on in practice.
Liz: We've been working on that in practice a lot.
Carla: And she did it in a game. It was nice.
The Press: I was told by Coach Balcomb not to mention to someone what her shooting percentage was, but you aren't that person. Are you aware that you're leading the national in field goal percentage?
Liz: Me? Ah, no. How is that possible? I miss dumb shots! I'm surprised. It should be higher. That's what's disappointing about it, I guess.
Carla: What's your percentage?
Liz: I don't know.
The Press: 69.3 coming in.
Liz: Are you kidding me??
Carla: As many layups as you miss?!
Liz: Exactly! That's what I'm saying! I miss so many easy layups! (Laughter.)
The Press: It's 69.7 now, after tonight.
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Photo copyright 2006 by Whitney D for VandyMania.com.
Mississippi State's Chalandra Hilliard (23) battles Vanderbilt's Liz Sherwood, left, for a rebound.(AP Photo/John Russell)