Vandy women win at Alabama, 65-53

TUSCALOOSA, AL -- The Vanderbilt Commodores continued their winning ways with a 65-53 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide Thursday night in Coleman Coliseum. Sophomore center Liz Sherwood led Vanderbilt in scoring with 23 points off the bench. Caroline Williams contributed 14 points including four 3-pointers, and Carla Thomas scored

Nothing in the early going gave any hint that the game was going to end happily for Vanderbilt. After Dee Davis sank a 3-pointer to give Vanderbilt a 3-0 lead with 18:28 left in the first half, the Commodores didn't score again for over six minutes, allowing Alabama to build a 9-3 lead with twelve minutes left in the half.

Finally, Cherish Stringfield found Sherwood under the basket for a layup. Soon afterwards, Williams' first 3-pointer of the game brought Vanderbilt to within 1 point at 11-10 with 10:47 left. Then another basket by Sherwood gave the Commodores their first lead of the game.

For the rest of the half, Vanderbilt managed to hold the lead, except for a brief tie at 15-15. With three minutes left in the half, the Commodores' lead grew to nine points at 25-16 on a fastbreak layup by Stringfield. But the Crimson Tide was able to trim the lead to five points at halftime at 28-23.

The early minutes of the second half have often been treacherous territory for the Commodores this season. When the Crimson Tide cut the lead to just two points, it looked as if that trend might continue, but a 3-pointer by freshman guard Holly Rogers momentarily restored Vanderbilt's 5-point halftime lead.

But soon afterwards Lauren Hill, who had hit two 3-pointers in the first half, hit two more in quick succession to cut the Vanderbilt lead to just one point at 33-32. Those 3-pointers were especially frustrating to Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb, because Hill's ability from long-range was one of the highlights of the scouting report.

"We talked about her at half time, not getting another one, and she came out and hit two more right away," said Balcomb after the game. "And you saw every person that was on her I took out immediately. I think the words were 'strangle' and then I said, "I'll just take you out."

The Commodores were able to stem the Tide and once again regained the 5-point lead at 40-35 on a 3-pointer by freshman Christina Wirth. But Alabama countered with a 3-pointer from Navonda Moore and layup by Dee Meriweather to tie the score at 40-40 with 13:30 left in the game.

For nearly four minutes, neither team was able to score as Vanderbilt missed eight consecutive shots from the field, and Alabama committed four fouls. Finally, Meriweather grabbed an offensive rebound and scored, giving Alabama their first lead of the game since midway through the first half.

The next few minutes were a see-saw battle, with first one team taking the lead and then the other, only to lose it shortly afterwards. When Camilla Blands hit a 3-pointer to give the Crimson Tide a four-point lead at 53-49 with just over five minutes remaining, Balcomb decided it was time to make a change.

"We switched our defense to man-to-man," she said. "We needed stops and rebounds, and in our zone we were giving up too much penetration and kick, which was giving shooters wide open looks."

The move paid off, as the Commodore defense forced six turnovers in the remaining minutes. "My kids really stepped up defensively," said Balcomb. "I thought they pressured the ball and had really active hands."

At the same time, the Vanderbilt offense starting clicking, led by Williams. In the huddle Balcomb challenged her to step up, and she responded.

"When Caroline's pressing, I think everybody else started pressing because she's been our leading scorer all year and our confident shooter, and I think they feed off her," Balcomb said. "Right after I challenged her -- and it's great to know that I can challenge a kid like that now -- she went out and buried a 3, and then another 3, and then everybody was like all of a sudden real confident, and that was really good. They started feeding off her again."

The combination of the energized defense and the rejuvenated offense allowed the Commodores to finish the game on a 16-0 run to claim the 65-53 victory.

With the win, Vanderbilt improves to 15-7 over and 4-4 in the SEC while Alabama falls to 8-13 overall, 2-6 in the SEC. Next action for the Commodores is once again on the road, as they travel to Auburn to meet the Tigers on Sunday afternoon before returning home to host the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks on Thursday night.

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