So the challenge for Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb was the best way to use a game with such clear potential for a blowout to continue to build momentum going into the SEC tournament which begins on Wednesday.
"We talked before the game about gaining momentum going into the SEC and to treat this as a first round game because we knew that we were going to have the bye," she said after the game. "So we tried to get our kids focused on, hey, let's treat this like the first round. If we hadn't had a bye, this is the kind of game we'd be playing."
The strategy apparently worked. After Vanderbilt led by just one point at 8-7 five minutes into the game, the Dores turned on the heat. Over the next six minutes, a 15-0 run gave Vanderbilt a 16-point lead, and the expected blowout began to materialize. By halftime, the Dores led by 33 points at 54-21.
The lopsided game gave Balcomb the chance to get her reserves significant playing time, even in the first half.
"I think it's always good at the end of the year that we have a team that's good enough to put somebody away that early and then to be able to play everybody else a lot of minutes before you go into post-season," Balcomb said.
Once the post-season begins the opportunities for the reserves to play will be limited. "You're going to be in a lot of close games and basically if you're not in the rotation, you're not going to play, " she continued, "so I think it was really nice to see us be able to sub, and the starters earn that for the reserves."
One result of the extended playing time for the reserves was that sophomore guard Ashlee Bridge, who had played in limited action this season, was one of the team's leading scorers with 16 points, a career high. Her points included two 3-pointers out of three attempts, and she was a perfect 2-2 from the free throw line.
"Today she did what she's able to do," Balcomb said. "She's a good shooter from the perimeter; she was ready to shoot the ball and was a threat all the time on offense. In transition she was also good going to the basket, and Jence [Rhoads] and Jess [Mooney] really got the ball up on the floor to her. She had a lot of opportunities, wide open looks and knocked them down. She was ready to play today.
"She's been practicing well, and I think what's also important is because she was practicing well, I rewarded her and subbed her earlier and gave her an opportunity to play with a lot of the starters, or our starting seven, out there," Balcomb explained. "She exceeded some of the others players because she was out there with four other people that are executing very well."
With the regular season wrapped up, now the team is looking forward to the SEC tournament, which begins on Thursday. However, because of their third place finish in the conference, Vanderbilt has a first round bye and won't play until Friday night.
Preparation for the tournament begins with a day off for the team on Monday. Since Vanderbilt is on spring break this week, it will be a true day off, a luxury that's rare during basketball season.
"On Wednesday, we're going to do individual work instead of practice," Balcomb said, "and then we're going to go bowling and compete at the lanes instead of having a hard practice, so if we do play three games in three days then our legs are fresh."
The tournament begins on Thursday at the Sommet Center in downtown Nashville with a full slate of games. In the first session, the first game matches Ole Miss and Mississippi State, followed by Florida vs. South Carolina. In the evening session, Georgia plays Alabama in the first game, then Auburn plays Arkansas in the night cap. Vanderbilt's first action will come on Friday night at 9 p.m. when the Dores face the winner of the Arkansas-Auburn game.
Photos from Sunday's game:
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Photos copyright 2008 by Whitney D for VandyMania.com.