"We had the four best practices after Duke, and we took everything we worked on to heart, and we were ready to play this game," said Head Coach Melanie Balcomb after the game.
"We played as hard as we have all year; we dove on the floor; we rebounded," she said. "I'm really pleased with their effort and really proud of how hard they played."
The clearest evidence of that effort is in the rebounding statistics. In their last game at Duke, the 'Dores were out-rebounded by the Blue Devils 41-20. Going into Sunday's game, USF had out-rebounded their opponents by an average of nearly ten rebounds a game. But in this game, Vanderbilt dominated the boards, with a commanding 52-38 rebounding margin, including 21 offensive rebounds.
But another statistic was more problematic. In the first half the 'Dores fouled early and often. By the end of the first half, five players, including every starter except for Tina Wirth, had at least two fouls.
Despite the foul problems, Vanderbilt led almost the entire first half. With 2:43 remaining in the first half, the 'Dores led by 13 points at 39-26. But Vanderbilt fouls sent South Florida repeatedly to the free throw line in the final minutes.. Although the Bulls were unable to capitalize on every opportunity, the fouls and the resulting free throws helped South Florida to cut the lead to seven points at 41-34 at halftime.
In the second half, USF scored on their first four possessions, and when the Bulls cut the lead to just one point at 45-44, Balcomb called a timeout.
"We repeated all the adjustments we talked about at halftime, which was to stop fouling people when you get beat, don't get beat and foul," Balcomb said. "We were bailing them out a lot, and we were giving them too many free throws."
But nevertheless, another Vanderbilt foul and another USF trip to the free throw line game tied the game. Then the Bulls regained the lead for the first time since the opening minutes of the game, and soon their lead grew to four points at 51-47.
At that moment, the game hung in the balance. In an 8-minute span including the last two minutes of the first half and the first six minutes of the second half, a 17-point swing had turned the game from a 13-point Vanderbilt lead to a 4-point USF lead.
Wirth answered the bell. Her 3-pointer ended the USF run and brought the 'Dores back to within one point at 51-50. Then, for the next five minutes, the teams battled tooth-and-nail. With eight minutes left, the teams were tied at 61-61.
Then Sherwood scored on an out-of-bounds play. When Jen Risper was fouled on a drive to the basket, her first free throw bounced on the rim then fell in, a prophetic sign that the ball was once again bouncing Vanderbilt's way.
Sure enough, over the next minute and a half, the Bulls missed four of five free throws, including the front end of a one-and-one. Then a shot from Wirth bounced and fell in to give Vanderbilt a 67-62 lead..
After that, USF couldn't cut the lead below four points as the 'Dores held their composure down the stretch. Balcomb credited the 'Dores' experience and poise as the difference.
"We were so much more poised to be able to get stops and get the key rebounds," she said. "We made free throws; they missed free throws.
"They don't have quite the experience that we have; we had people wanting the basketball, wanting to shoot the free throws and had the confidence to do the things that we needed to do."
With the victory Vanderbilt improves to 9-1. Next action will be the Vanderbilt Holiday Classic on Wednesday. At 5:00 Longwood will play Indiana State, and at 7:00 Vanderbilt will play Lipscomb. Action continues on Thursday with the consolation game at 1:00 p.m. and the championship game at 3:00 p.m.
Photo copyright 2006 by Whitney D for VandyMania.com