VU Women Take Bite out of Gators, 66-56

Liz Sherwood and Jessica Mooney provided a lift from the bench as Vanderbilt defeated the Florida Gators 66-56 Thursday night in Gainesville. Sherwood led all scorers with 20 points along with 12 rebounds while Mooney scored 16, and Tina Wirth added 15. Jen Risper contributed 10 rebounds, 5 steals, and 3 assists with 0 turnovers. Marshae Dotson led the Gators with 15 points.

Despite the double digit margin of victory and the fact that Vanderbilt never trailed in the game, the outcome of the game was up in the air until the final minutes.

The Dores got off to a great start, thanks to the outside shooting of Wirth, who hit three 3-pointers in the first seven minutes of the game. Another 3-pointer from Merideth Marsh, a couple of baskets from Mooney and another from Jen Risper gave Vanderbilt a 20-6 lead midway through the first half. At that point in the game, one might have thought that the Commodores were about to sail on to an easy victory, but the winds soon changed direction.

The Gators began to chip away, and over the next seven minutes held the Dores to only three points. The 15-3 Florida run cut Vanderbilt's once comfortable lead to just two points at 23-21 with three minutes left in the half. The question hanging in the air for Vanderbilt was, "Are we ever going to score?"

Mooney provided the answer with a 3-pointer from two feet behind the arc. She followed it up with a steal and a fastbreak basket to restore the lead back to seven points at 28-21. When the teams headed to the locker rooms at halftime, Vanderbilt still held a 5-point lead at 30-25.

The Dores got off to a shaky start in the second half. Vanderbilt fouls and turnovers led to a 5-0 Florida run to begin the half, allowing the Gators to tie the game at 30-30. Once again, the question for the Dores was, "Who's going to step up?"

The answer this time was a group effort. The Dores had struggled from the free throw line, but Wirth sank two foul shots. Then Mooney and freshman point guard Jence Rhoads each scored to give the Dores a little breathing room at 36-30.

The relief was short-lived, however, as Florida's Sharielle Smith sank a 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer cut that lead in half to 36-33, and soon afterwards, the Vanderbilt lead was reduced to a mere sliver at 38-37.

But once again, Mooney provided an answer, sinking another 3-pointer to push the lead out to 41-37. Then Sherwood settled into some steady offense from inside, while Risper, who finished the game with five steals, created offense off her defense. An old-fashioned 3-point play by Sherwood briefly gave the Dores a double-digit lead at 49-39, but it didn't last long, as five quick points from Florida cut the lead back to five points at 49-44.

From that point on, it was a game of cat-and-mouse, with the game temptingly within the reach of the Gators. But each time Florida threatened to close the gap below four or five points, the Dores jumped a step ahead..

Finally, with 1:29 left in the game, Vanderbilt once again had a double-digit lead at 62-52. But after a Vanderbilt shot early in the shot clock and a Commodore foul resulted in two made free throws for Florida, Head Coach Melanie Balcomb called a 30-second time out.

On the next possession, the Dores ran down the shot clock, ending with Wirth sinking a basket, which might have been the dagger in Florida's heart. Then the Gators were forced to foul, but it was too little, too late as two free throws by Wirth sealed the 66-56 victory for the Vanderbilt.

Coming into the game, Vanderbilt and Florida had identical records, 14-6 overall, and 3-2 in SEC play. With the victory, Vanderbilt improved to 15-6 overall, 4-2 in the conference, while Florida fell to 14-7 overall, and 3-3 in the SEC.

For their next game, the Dores are once again on the road as they travel to Athens, Georgia, for a 1:30 p.m. CT time against the Georgia Lady Bulldogs. Next home action will be Thursday night at 7 p.m. in Memorial Gym, when the South Carolina Gamecocks come to town.


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