VU women blast Florida Atlantic, 81-49

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt improved to 5-0 on the season with an 81-49 victory over the Florida Atlantic Owls in the first round of the Vanderbilt Thanksgiving Tournament on Friday afternoon.

Caroline Williams led all scorers with 17 points. Tina Wirth added 12 points for the 'Dores, and freshman Lauren Leuders scored 11 points off the bench. Dee Davis dished out 10 assists with only one turnover.

As the game began, the 'Dores were caught by surprise when the smaller Owls came out in a zone. "I thought they would come out and pressure and use their quickness, and they did the opposite," said Head Coach Melanie Balcomb after the game.

"I think we were caught off-guard a little bit by how open we were," she said. "They just packed it in in their zone and caused us problems early."

The zone opened up shots from the outside. After Wirth and Williams each hit a 3-pointer to begin the game, over the next several minutes the 'Dores missed four 3-pointers and didn't hit a single field goal from inside the arc.

Generally the problem is that 3-point shots are high percentage shots for us, and we got real wide open looks, " Balcomb said, "but I think we were standing up with the zone and not nice and low and ready."

Vanderbilt's misses from the outside allowed the Owls to stay close in the first part of the game, and midway through the first half, Florida Atlantic lead 15-14.

After Balcomb called a time out, the 'Dores began to set the tone. All through the rest of the game, Balcomb kept talking about defense.

"That's what we've worked on the past two days," she said. "We've worked very hard and looked great defensively in practice, but still came out tentative and gave up too many wide-open looks early."

"The first few minutes we were a little shaky," said senior point guard Dee Davis. "Then we picked up the intensity and that wasn't an issue any more."

Over the next five minutes, Vanderbilt held the Owls scoreless. In the meantime, a couple of layups by Liz Sherwood, a jumper and a 3-pointer by Williams, and a 3-pointer from Lueders gave Vanderbilt a 27-15 lead.

With two minutes left in the half, FAU cut the lead to four points at 29-25, but the 'Dores ended the half with a 7-0 run to take a 36-25 halftime lead.

Coming out of the locker room, Vanderbilt extended the run for the first three minutes of the second half pushing the lead out to 18 points on when Davis scored on a fast break to make the score 43-25.

FAU never came closer than 16 points after that. With 13 minutes left in the game, a jumper by Jen Risper gave the 'Dores their first 20-point lead of the game.

With 16 seconds left in the game, a 3-pointer by Merideth Marsh ended the scoring at 81-49 and gave fans another round of free tacos as the 'Dores passed the magic 80-point mark for the second game in the row.

But the excitement didn't end with the end of the game. After the final buzzer and the traditional hand-shaking line, the team didn't jog to the locker room. Instead, they stayed on the court as the alma mater played over the loudspeakers.

Afterwards, as the team and coaches looked on, a trivia contest took place on the court. To the complete surprise of the audience and the fans -- not to mention contestant Jennifer Osborn of Nashville -- the third question displayed on the jumbotron asked: "Jennifer, will you marry me? -- Justin"

As the team broke into cheers, tears and hugs, Director of Basketball Operations Justin VanOrman joined Jennifer on the court, knelt to one knee, and offered her a ring. Microphone still in hand, she gave the correct answer: "Yes!"

Soon afterwards, in the second game of the day, #16 California (Berkeley) defeated the Belmont Bruins 69-52, setting up the matches for Saturday.

In the consolation game at noon, Belmont will play Florida Atlantic while Vanderbilt will play California in the championship game at 2:00 p.m. Admission to both games is free.

* * * * *

Photos copyright 2006 by Whitney D for Top Stories