Vanderbilt women top Ole Miss, 68-58

The Vanderbilt Commodores snapped their three-game losing streak with a 68-58 victory over the Ole Miss Lady Rebels Sunday afternoon in Memorial Gym. Three Commodores scored in double figures, led by junior post Carla Thomas with 16 points. Junior guard Caroline Williams scored 15 points, and junior guard Cherish Stringfield added 11 points. Senior post Nicole Jules contributed 10 rebounds.

When the game began, junior point guard Dee Davis was on the bench, out of the starting lineup for the second consecutive game because of an injury to her left knee. As she watched from the sidelines, it looked as if the Commodores might stumble against the Lady Rebels, who had a 1-4 record in the SEC coming into the game. Ole Miss scored the first eight points of the game, and Vanderbilt didn't score until Stringfield sank a 3-pointer more than four minutes after the game began.

The Commodores inched their way back into the game, finally tying the score at 10-10 with twelve minutes left in the first half. But Ole Miss pulled ahead once again and led by eight points at 20-12 with 7:10 left. Then Vanderbilt returned the favor, going on an 8-0 run and tying the game again at 20-20 with 4:55 left. Soon afterward took their first lead of the game at 22-21 on a layup by Thomas.

In the waning minutes of the half, the pendulum swung once again. Ole Miss was leading by four when an offensive rebound by Shawn Goff and a putback gave the Lady Rebels a six-point halftime lead at 32-26. However, subsequent video review showed that the buzzer had sounded before the shot, so the basket was erased, making the official halftime score 30-26.

At halftime, a state of emergency was declared in the Vanderbilt locker room.

"When you're in a conference and you're where we're at, you need to win your games at home, and so at this point in the season at the end of January, when you're going into the second half in February, you gotta take care of business at home," said Head Coach Melanie Balcomb after the game.

Desperate times call for desperation measures, and Balcomb decided to put Davis in the lineup to begin the second half.

"We thought her knee would be fine, and it hasn't been, so we tried to hold her as long as we could," said Balcomb. "But if we don't win this game, at home against a team that's 1-4 in the league, what are you going to save her for, because at the end of the year it's not going to matter."

So when the second half began, Davis went onto the court, and Vanderbilt responded with an 8-0 run to take a 34-30 lead with 17:02 left in the game and never fell behind again. For the next twelve minutes, the Lady Rebels kept the game in single digits until a 3-pointer by Stringfield with five minutes remaining gave the Commodores their first double-digit lead of the game at 56-45.

Ole Miss managed to cut the lead briefly back to single digits at 62-54 with a minute remaining. Then the Lady Rebels were forced to begin fouling. But in the end, Thomas, Stringfield and Davis each hit a pair of free throws to seal the 68-58 victory.

With the victory, Vanderbilt improves to 14-7 overall, and 3-4 in the SEC. Ole Miss falls to 12-8 overall, 2-5 in the SEC. Next the Commodores hit the road once again, playing Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Thursday night, then traveling to Auburn to play the Tigers on Sunday afternoon. Next home game will be on Thursday, February 9, when Vanderbilt hosts the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks, who handed the Commodores a heart-breaking 52-51 overtime loss in Fayetteville earlier in the season.

Vanderbilt's Carla Thomas, left, battles Mississippi's Tasi Worsham for a loose ball during the first half. (AP Photo/John Russell)

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