"I usually change the lineup after we lose," said Head Coach Melanie Balcomb after the game. "Holly's gotten better every game. I love how she's developing. I think she reads the game real well, and she's doing a lot of things that we're teaching. She's playing with confidence."
Rogers' position in the starting lineup came at the expense of Wirth, who had started every game of the season prior to Thursday night's game.
"I talked to Tina," Balcomb said. "Tina should be taking 5 to 8 shots a game, 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."
Wirth responded to the challenge with 16 points while shooting six for ten from the floor, including four of five from 3-point range.
Whether it was the change in the lineup, the pent-up frustration of Sunday's disappointing loss, or the film study and practices following the loss in Fayetteville, the Commodores came out on fire. Junior post Carla Thomas, who entered the game with a total of 999 points scored in her Vanderbilt career, quickly crossed the 1000-point plateau with the first bucket of the game.
Over the next five minutes, Vanderbilt reeled off twelve more straight points to take a 14-0 lead, highlighted by seven points and three steals from Williams. Mississippi State finally got on the board with a pair of free throws by Miayorka Johnson.
But the Commodores continued to pull away. With 11:30 left in the half, Vanderbilt held a 25-8 lead. Balcomb took advantage of the comfortable margin to rest point guard Dee Davis, who suffered a knee injury in practice on Wednesday. Cherish Stringfield took over point guard duties, along with Erica Grimaldi and, in the last few minutes of the game, Rogers .
The onslaught continued through the half, and by intermission, the Vanderbilt lead had ballooned past 30 points to a 46-15 halftime score. During the half, Vanderbilt shot 61% from the field while holding the Lady Bulldogs to just 17.4% shooting from the field.
In the second half, the Commodore lead continued to grow, reaching 40 points at 68-28 midway through the half and didn't drop below 35 points after that. The comfortable lead allowed Balcomb to rest her starters and to give her bench players significant playing time. Late in the game, sophomore post Rachel Brockman made her first appearance since December after missing two games due to a shoulder injury. When the dust settled, the final score was 87-48.
Balcomb was pleased with the way her team came back from Sunday's loss. "We've responded really well after losses, and it's good to see our energy and being ready to play," she said.
"But I wish we wouldn't have to lose to have that," she continued. "I wish we could do that more consistently. I know that's because we have a lot of young players, and it's hard for young kids to be consistent, but we've just got to get more consistent."
With the victory, Vanderbilt improves to 12-4 overall, 1-1 in the SEC. Next the Commodores travel to Columbia, South Carolina, to play the Gamecocks on Sunday afternoon. Vanderbilt's next home game will be Thursday, January 19, when the Commodores host the #1-ranked Lady Vols of the University of Tennessee.
Mississippi State's Lauren Roberts (20) gets pressure from Vanderbilt's Liz Sherwood (32) and Dee Davis, right. (AP Photo/John Russell)