VU women overpower #16 Cal, 67-55

NASHVILLE-- Led by tournament MVP Caroline Williams, the Commodores won their Thanksgiving Tournament by defeating #16 California 67-55 in the championship game on Saturday afternoon. Four 'Dores scored in double figures, led by Williams with 18. Carla Thomas scored 16, and Tina Wirth and Liz Sherwood scored 10 points each.

The Golden Bears scored first on a 3-pointer by Alexis-Gray Lawson, but the lead didn't last long, and as it turned out, it was their only lead of the game. A jumper and a 3-pointer by Wirth gave the 'Dores a 5-3 lead less than two minutes later, and they never lost the lead after that.

In the early minutes of the game, Wirth and Thomas provided the scoring for the 'Dores. With the score standing 16-7 with 13:02 remaining in the half, Wirth had scored eight of the Vanderbilt points, and Thomas had scored the other eight.

Then, after hitting seven of their first ten shots from the field, the 'Dores went cold, missing seven of their next nine shots. The drought allowed the Golden Bears to close the gap, and with five minutes left in the first half, Vanderbilt led by only two points at 22-20.

But the Commodore defense saved the day, holding California scoreless for the rest of the half allowing Vanderbilt to take a 31-20 lead into the locker room at intermission.

"I thought we were much more aggressive defensively than we had been all year, and we shut them down," said Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb. "That's how we got the lead because we weren't shooting the ball great."

Vanderbilt's run continued into the second half. Sherwood, who had been held scoreless in the first half, scored the first four points in the second half. Thomas scored after grabbing an offensive rebound, then Williams scored when point guard Dee Davis found her on a fast break.

California didn't score until five minutes had elapsed in the second half, and by then they had fallen behind by 19 points at 39-20.

But midway through the second half, the momentum shifted.

"We got into a little bit of a lull in the middle of the second half," said Thomas. "We weren't as aggressive as we should have been and we weren't doing the things that had gotten us to that point. We were playing basically not to lose instead of trying to increase the lead or go hard. "

"It was like a prevent defense," said Balcomb. "We got too tentative and passive, and we weren't aggressive, and that's when we got in a situation where they were attacking us."

The defensive lull allowed California fight their way back into the game. With 6:37 left in the game, the Golden Bears cut the lead back to single digits for the first time since late in the first half on a layup by Ashley Walker.

Then Williams caught fire. Prior to that point, she had scored only six points, connecting on just one of her three 3-point attempts. But Jessica Mooney found her open, and Williams sank a 3-pointer to push the lead back out to 12 points at 52-40.

Then, over the next few minutes, the Golden Bears battled tooth and nail, pressing and trapping to try to close the gap further.

But Williams sank shot after shot, scoring nine consecutive points on three straight 3-pointers, all coming on assists from Davis.

"They tried to pressure us, but I think Dee did a really good job of slowing us down finding the open shooters," said Williams.

"And it just so happened that I had a couple of open looks there in a row," she said, "but it was Dee who really finds us and sets us up well."

Williams last 3-pointer came with 1:17 left, giving the 'Dores a 12-point lead at 65-53. Then Walker, who led the Golden Bears with 19 points, fouled out of the game, and Wirth sank the resulting free throws. Gray-Lawson then was fouled and hit a pair of free throws, but it was too little, too late, and Vanderbilt claimed the 67-55 victory.

After the game, the tournament honors were awarded. Carla Thomas, Mistoria Brown of Florida Atlantic, and Alysha Clark of Belmont were named to the All-Tournament Team, and Caroline Williams was named the Most Valuable Player.

With the victory, Vanderbilt improves to 6-0 for the season. Next action will be on the road in Birmingham on Thursday night against the UAB Blazers.

Then the 'Dores return home to host Clemson on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. for a nationally televised game on ESPN2. The game will also be a "Pink Out!" to promote breast cancer awareness and research with a portion of all ticket proceeds going to the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

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Photos copyright 2006 by WhitneyD for Top Stories