"We didn't start out great offensively by any means,," said Head Coach Melanie Balcomb after the game, "but when you play good defense and you keep getting stops, then on offense you start to relax, and you have to be relaxed on offense to make shots."
Coming out of the timeout, the Dores missed their first two shots, then began to get on track offensively. Merideth Marsh drove to the basket and scored. Hannah Tuomi followed up with a couple of baskets from the low block, then Jence Rhoads scored on a fast break to put Vanderbilt ahead 14-3 eight minutes into the half.
After that, Vanderbilt never looked back. Briefly, the Gamecocks cut the lead back to single digits when South Carolina freshman Jordan Jones hit a 3-pointer followed by a backdoor layup by Demetress Adams.
But then a 13-0 Vanderbilt run put the Dores up 27-8 with 8:37 left in the half. With five minutes left, a couple of free throws by Jessica Mooney gave the Dores a 20-point lead at 30-10, and for the rest of the game, Vanderbilt led by at least 20 points.
Besides the defensive intensity that set the stage in the early going, by the end of the game, Vanderbilt's offensive efficiency was just as striking. The team shot 50% from the field for the game (57% from 3-point range), while holding the Gamecocks to 31% shooting (29% from 3-point range). In addition, of 23 of Vanderbilt's 29 field goals were assisted.
In her post-game comments, Balcomb cited the play of freshman point guard Jence Rhoads, who finished the game with six assists and only one turnover, as a major factor in that performance.
"Quietly Jence Rhoads is becoming a heckuva point guard," she said. "She's just 'Steady Eddie.' Since we started starting her and Hannah, we're a different team, and a lot of it has to do with the girl who has the ball in her hands and the confidence that she's playing with and the level-headedness and the composure. We have a lot of assists now sharing the basketball and unselfish play, and it starts with her.
As Rhoads has settled into her role, so have her teammates, according to the coach. "Everybody is doing their role, which is where you need to be," she said. "Merideth is hitting 3's. Merideth's being a shooter; Jence's pushing and passing -- Jence threw some of the best passes I've ever seen at Vanderbilt today. That full court baseball pass off the dribble – and she makes it look so easy and she's not flashy, so she doesn't amaze you. But she's one of the real keys."
Another positive for Vanderbilt was the play of sophomore guard Lauren Lueders. After having seen limited action in conference play, Lueders played 20 minutes and hit three 3-pointers on four attempts.
"That's what Lauren does," Balcomb said. "She just had a tough stretch there, but she's been playing really well in practice, and this was a great game to get her in and get her some confidence back, and she played like she's been practicing, so we weren't surprised. She hadn't played in a game that way recently, and it's nice to have her back and shooting it well and being very confident. She carried herself very well."
With the victory Vanderbilt improved to 17-6 overall and 6-2 in the conference play, the best start to the SEC season in Balcomb's tenure at Vanderbilt. Next, Vanderbilt travels to Tuscaloosa for a Sunday afternoon game with the Crimson Tide before returning home on Valentine's Day to host the Kentucky Wildcats.
The February 14 game is a special promotion, as Vanderbilt will join many colleges around the country in the WBCA's "Think Pink" promotion, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting breast cancer research. Fans are encouraged to wear pink to the game.
Photos copyright 2008 by Whitney D for VandyMania.com.