VU Women Complete Kentucky Sweep, 66-49

Lifted by a strong second half, the Vanderbilt women's team completed the sweep of Kentucky in Memorial Gym this week, defeating the Wildcats 66-49 on Thursday night. Tina Wirth led all scorers with 20 points, while Jen Risper added 15 points as well as eight rebounds. The win gives the Dores their best start in SEC play since the schedule expanded to 14 games in 1997-98.

There's more than one way to skin a cat.

Coming into Thursday night's game against Kentucky, Vanderbilt's formula for success recently has been to jump on opponents early, propelled by aggressive defense.

Thursday night, Vanderbilt had to find a different way to win. Instead of racing out to an early lead, the Dores found themselves in a slow-paced, low-scoring game. Ten minutes into the first half, the teams had managed only a combined 15 points as Vanderbilt held a one-point lead at 8-7.

And when someone finally looked ready to make a move, it was the visitors in blue, who took a six-point lead at 16-10 with 7:46 left in the first half, prompting Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb to call a 30-second timeout.

Coming out of the time out, Vanderbilt responded with a 9-0 run to take a 3-point lead at 19-16 on a pair of made free throws by Jence Rhoads with five minutes left in the half. But then momentum flipped again, as the Wildcats finished out the half with a 9-0 run of their own to take a 25-19 lead into the locker room.

"Thank God for halftime," Balcomb said after the game. "Sometime you don't want halftime. I wanted a halftime."

Balcomb had one message for her players: "Come out and play our speed, our tempo."

"It was a tempo game, and [Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell] did a great job, just walking it up, being real methodical, slowing us down," said Balcomb. "They were just passing back and forth and walking it up and making us play defense for the whole 30 seconds."

The slow pace affected Vanderbilt's offense, too.

"They got us into a tempo that was slow, so on offense we were on one speed – slow," Balcomb said. "So I talked to them at halftime about attacking the basket and changing speeds -- changing speeds coming off screens, changing speeds, driving to the basket because we were getting lulled into that tempo, and that's not our tempo."

Balcomb also called for changes on defense.

"We started the way we always do, switching up between our man and our zone in the first half. Then in the second half we decided to go straight man, and I think that we were more aggressive in that and started pressing," said Tina Wirth in the post-game press conference.

"Any time you start pressing if you aren't aggressive, you're going to get killed, " she continued, "so I think that kind of forced us to be more aggressive and changed the pace of the game in our favor."

The halftime changes worked.

"When we came out after halftime, Jen [Risper] set the tone defensively and offensively, attacking the basket, changing speeds," said Balcomb.

The result of the halftime adjustments was a 14-0 Vanderbilt run in the first five minutes of the second half to give the Dores a 33-25 lead.

After that, Kentucky managed to tie the game once more at 33-33 with 12:06 left in the game, but an 8-0 run put Vanderbilt back on top.

The Wildcats cut the lead to four points at 41-37, but could come no closer. A 3-pointer by Merideth Marsh with 8:13 left in the game gave the Dores a ten-point lead at 47-37.

Chelsea Chowning answered with a 3-pointer for the Wildcats, but Vanderbilt soon re-established their double-digit lead and maintained it for the rest of the game.

With the victory, Vanderbilt improved to 19-6 overall and 8-2 in the SEC to solidify their hold on third place in the conference standings, while Kentucky fell to 12-12 overall and 6-4 in the SEC, maintaining fourth place in the league.

Next action for Vanderbilt is Sunday afternoon, when the Dores host the Tennessee Lady Vols, who lost to the LSU Lady Tigers 78-62 on Thursday night in Knoxville. Unfortunately for fans who don't have tickets, Sunday's game is already sold out.

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Photos copyright 2008 by Whitney D for VandyMania.com.

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