Vanderbilt women top Kentucky, 72-55

The Vanderbilt Commodores got back on the winning track Thursday night with a 72-55 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats. Carla Thomas led Vanderbilt with 17 points, followed by Dee Davis with 14, Nicole Jules with 13, Caroline Williams with 11, and Liz Sherwood with 10.

For both teams, this was a high stakes game. With a 8-4 record in the SEC going into the game, a Kentucky win would clinch a first round bye for the SEC tournament for the Wildcats. For Vanderbilt, a win would be important not only for SEC seeding, but also for bolstering their NCAA resume after a disappointing performance against Georgia on Sunday.

The Wildcats scored first in the game and led by as much as six points at 12-6 in the early going. However, that would turn out to be their biggest lead of the night. A couple of baskets by Sherwood coming off the bench and a 3-pointer from Williams gave the Commodores their first lead of the night at 13-12 with 12:33 left in the first half. Then Davis scored on an inbounds play, and Thomas scored to give Vanderbilt a 5-point lead at 17-12 with 10 minutes remaining in the half.

For the rest of the half, Vanderbilt held on to the lead. Every time that the Wildcats threatened to close the gap, the Commodores were able to get a stop. An old-fashioned 3-point lead by Carly Ormerod cut the lead to three points at 25-22 with five minutes remaining, but Tina Wirth answered with a layup to give Vanderbilt some breathing room.

Vanderbilt pushed the lead out to nine points at 31-22 with 1:47 left, but the Wildcats finished the half with a 6-0 run to trim the lead to three points at 31-28 at halftime.

Over the course of the season, the first few minutes after halftime have occasionally proven treacherous for the Commodores. But on Thursday night, Vanderbilt turned the tables and began the second half with a 8-0 run to take a double digit lead at 39-28 in the first few minutes of the half.

As it turned out, that early spurt provided a big enough cushion to allow the Commodores to withstand every Kentucky run. The Wildcats were able to trim the lead back to six points at 51-45 with seven minutes remaining, but Thomas answered for Vanderbilt.

Soon afterwards, Williams hit her second 3-pointer of the game to restore the double digit lead at 56-46 with 5:50 left in the game. When Williams sank her third 3-pointer to give Vanderbilt a 15-point lead at 64-49 with three minutes remaining, the crowd began to sense that a victory was close at hand.

From that point on, Kentucky sent Vanderbilt repeatedly to the free throw line. In the final two minutes of the game, Davis connected on all six of her free throw attempts. Then a jumper by Thomas in the final minute gave the Commodores a 20-point lead, their biggest of the night, before a 3-pointer by Samantha Mahoney ended the scoring for the game at 72-55.

With the victory, Vanderbilt improves to 18-9 overall, 7-6 in the SEC, while Kentucky falls to 19-7 over all, 8-5 in the SEC.

Next action for Vanderbilt is on Sunday afternoon, when the Commodores host the South Carolina Gamecocks at 2 p.m. The game will feature a "Kids Eat Free" promotion, with every child aged 12 or under receiving a voucher for a hot dog and a soft drink. After the game, Vanderbilt's two seniors, Nicole Jules (photo above right by Neil Brake)and Erica Grimaldi, will be honored in Senior Night activities.

Vanderbilt's Dee Davis (10) blocks Kentucky's Carly Ormerod (00) as she drives the ball downcourt in the first half of a women's college basketball game in Nashville, Tenn. on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006. (AP Photo/Neil Brake)

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