VU women top LaSalle, 70-59

NASHVILLE-- Vanderbilt celebrated New Year's Day with a 70-59 victory over the LaSalle Explorers Monday afternoon in Memorial Gym. Three 'Dores scored in double figures, led by Carla Thomas with 16 points. Tina Wirth added 12, and Lauren Lueders scored 10. Carlene Hightower led all scorers with 21 points for the Explorers.

In the first half of the game, it appeared that the 'Dores established control. Thomas scored the first points of the game, and Vanderbilt never trailed after that. Over the first five minutes of the game, the 'Dores built a 10-point lead, and by the end of the half their lead had grown to 14 points at 37-23.

However, in the second half the Explorers were able to control the tempo of the game and take the upper hand.

"We don't play a lot of teams that use that much time on offense," said Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb. "They make you play defense for 30 seconds, and we're not used to doing that, then we lost focus and concentration and fouled some people, or doubled the wrong person and left the shooter."

Those mistakes added up on the scoreboard. Going into the game, one of the keys to Vanderbilt's game plan was not to bail the Explorers out with a foul when they went deep into the shot clock on offense. In the first half, the 'Dores were successful in that, as they didn't send LaSalle to the free throw line at all.

But in the second half, the Explorers had 13 free throw attempts -- many coming from fouls deep in the shot clock -- and didn't miss a single one.

The result was a game that ended up too close for comfort for Vanderbilt fans. Five minutes into the second half, LaSalle cut the Vanderbilt lead to single digits, and with four minutes left, they trailed by only six points at 59-53.

Then Vanderbilt seniors came through. Davis found senior guard Caroline Williams, who had been fouled on her only previous shot from the field, on the perimeter. Williams knocked down the 3-pointer to give the 'Dores a little breathing room.

A couple of minutes later, LaSalle once again cut the lead to 7 points at 64-57 with two minutes to go in the game. This time another senior -- Dee Davis -- hit a pullup jumper. On the opposite end of the court, the third senior -- Carla Thomas -- pulled down a critical defensive rebound.

"That's what we need -- our three seniors to step up and make plays, and all three of them did once again," said Balcomb. "What's nice is being able to look these kids in the eye in close games and knowing that they're not rattled. They want to take the shot now."

With only a minute to go and trailing by nine, LaSalle called timeout. Immediately afterwards, they looked to foul. With the three Vanderbilt seniors on the court, the Explorers instead fouled Lauren Lueders. The freshman guard stepped to the line and calmly sank the front end of the one-and-one then nailed the second to give the 'Dores a double-digit lead.

LaSalle scored once more on a layup following an offensive rebound, but Vanderbilt immediately countered when Wirth scored on a long pass from Thomas to end the scoring for the game at 70-59.

With the victory, Vanderbilt improves to 13-1 and completes the pre-SEC portion of the schedule. SEC action begins on Thursday night when Arkansas (15-1) visits Memorial Gym. Game time is 7 p.m.

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