Another game, another road trip -- this time to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to play the Western Kentucky Lady Toppers. Starting lineup for Vanderbilt: #34 Tina Wirth, #32 Liz Sherwood, #10 Dee Davis, #33 Caroline Williams, and #50 Carla Thomas.
The subtitle of this game might have been "Caroline Does It All," including leading the team in scoring with 21 points.
The 'Dores scored the first five points of the game, which looked like a good start for Vanderbilt -- until the Lady Toppers upped the ante and immediately scored 13 straight points.
This basket by Liz Sherwood cut the Western lead back to 5 points at 14-9, but the 'Dores had to play catchup for almost the entire rest of the game.
Freshman point guard Merideth Marsh was back in her home state. Just a few months ago, she was part of the Kentucky High School All-Star team that played the Indiana All-Stars on this very same court.
It was also deja vu for freshman post Amber Norton, who also played for the same Kentucky All-Stars team last summer on this court.
Freshman guard Lauren Lueders scored five points, pulled down two boards and had two assists with no turnovers in seven minutes of play.
After falling behind early, throughout the rest of the first half, the 'Dores trailed by as much as 12 points. With seven minutes left in the half and the team trailing by nine, four freshmen and one sophomore were on the court.
With less than a second left in the first half, Carla Thomas was fouled and sank both of her free throws to cut Western's lead down to 43-37 at halftime.
In the first half, Amber Norton got to free throw line as much as the rest of the team put together, but missed her first free throws as a Commodore. In the second half, when she went to the line, she knocked down two free throws to bring the 'Dores within four points at 55-51.
The raucous student section, right behind the visitors' goal, waved the trademark red towels as they tried to disrupt the Vanderbilt players as they went to the free throw line in the second half.
Vanderbilt took a brief lead at 57-55 midway through the second half, but Western regained the lead. The 'Dores couldn't get over the hump, but kept it close under the steadying hands of their senior leaders.
Caroline Williams made something out of nothing as the shot clock was winding down, sinking a jumper just before the buzzer to cut the Western's lead down to 60-59.
Freshman guard Jess Mooney five straight Vanderbilt points in the second half on baseline drive and an old-fashioned 3-point play.
With 3:51 left in the game, Vanderbilt trailed by seven points at 76-69. Not many people would have predicted that from then on, the 'Dores would outscore the Lady Toppers 17-2. Western didn't score a single field goal in the last four minutes of the game.
In the last two minutes of the game, Caroline Williams hit all six of her free throw attempts, part of a perfect 9-9 performance at the free throw line for the game.
As Vanderbilt finally gained the upper hand, the emotions showed on the bench.
In the end, Vanderbilt's pressure defense made the difference, with Dee Davis, Tina Wirth,and Caroline Williams each getting key steals to help to turn the tide.
It's never pleasant to face the media after a loss, but when you've led almost the entire game and lose in the end, it's hard to hide your disappointment. Charlotte Marshall and Dominque Duck had the unenviable task of trying to explain to the reporters how the game had slipped through their fingers. "The key word is 'finishing'," they said. "It all goes back to 'We didn't finish the game.'"
But one team's disappointment is the other team's joy, and on Thursday night, Vanderbilt's locker room was a happy one.
The happy ending was made even happier for Merideth Marsh when she got to greet friends, family, and former teammates who had made the trip down from Louisville for the game.
Finally, after two hard-fought road games, the 'Dores will play their first home game of the season on Saturday afternoon when they host Dartmouth at 4:00 p.m. Anyone who brings a ticket from the Tennessee-Vanderbilt football game, which will be played earlier in the day, will receive free admission to the basketball game.
Photos copyright 2006 by WhitneyD for VandyMania.com.