Vandy knocks off Georgia, 67-59

Another SEC opponent finds an unfamiliar Vanderbilt team too much to handle as the Commodores use offensive and defensive weapons to squelch second half surges from Georgia.

A light snow fell in the Nashville area hours before Vanderbilt's clash with 12th ranked Georgia, but the action in Memorial Gym Thursday night was hot. It was Georgia who started cold as Vandy sprinted to a 16-0 lead largely on lay-ups by freshman forward Hannah Tuomi.

Making her fifth start since January 2, the 6-1 Colorado native hustled to lay in 14 first-half points of Vandy's first 23 in a 31-21 halftime total. It was a career high for Hannah, who has now scored in double digits the last three games. "We played well, but we can always play better. It's a good thing that we pulled out a win."

In a repeat of last season's SEC win over Georgia 81-56 in which Tina Wirth led scorers with 21, the junior forward sank a team high 16 points, including two 3's this round. Meredith Marsh added 12, with three from 3-point range. Vanderbilt shot 51.9% for the game, and kept defensive pressure consistent to stop a Georgia (14-3, 1-2) comeback. Vandy forced 24 turnovers, 17 in the first half.

The visitors got as close as 57-51 with 4:57 to play on a jumper by Georiga's Tasha Humphrey, but Liz Sherwood, with 9 points off the bench, sank a layup for Vanderbilt. Each time a surge advanced, Vandy answered.

Coach Melanie Balcomb was able to relax a bit down the stretch. "I think with 10 minutes to go, Tina hit a really big three. That's who we needed to step up and wanted, and she did, and I think we all knew we were going to be okay."

Tina explained, "Georgia is a great team, they're not going to go away. We kept emphasizing that we've got to keep attacking the basket, going hard, playing to win and not to lose."

Balcomb was proud of the overall effort, from Hannah's hustle, to Liz's inside shooting, to defensive intensity and the teamwork the staff has emphasized all season long.

"(Assistant coach) Vicky Picott put it best, ‘it's baby steps.' It's not going to happen overnight. I can see the improvement and that's impressive because I'm not easily impressed. I see us getting better as a team. I see us hungrier. I see it coming together, and if I see it, they see it."

The win may put the unranked Commodores back into the nation's Top 25, but the team's earlier recognition was premature and pressure-packed, Balcomb explained.

"Preseason rankings are a joke until you start conference play. We're not the same team as last year and everybody knows that. (The No. 17 ranking) put a lot of pressure on our players to try to hold on to something. There's already enough pressure with the tradition at Vanderbilt and expectations to win and keep this program where it's always been. That needed to go away; it should have went away earlier. We were really good last year and We earned it last year. This team didn't earn it and they knew that. We didn't focus on that, we wanted to get away from (that pressure.)"

With #2 Tennessee in Sunday's 2 p.m. (CST) matchup, the Commodores (13-5, 2-1 SEC) have their work cut out for them.

Tina said with the loss of three seniors, teams are perhaps overlooking a revamped lineup, and that may bode well in Knoxville. "Teams don't know our freshmen and our sophomores are still young. Tennesse is a great team. It's going to be a tough game. We're young, we don't know any better. We're going to give it everything we have and hopefully it will go well for us."

Balcomb is optimistic. "You want to have your head up out of water. You want to be confident, you want to be a winning team going down there, and that's what we'll be doing."


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