VU Women Advance to Sweet 16

Vanderbilt advanced to the Sweet 16 of the 2008 NCAA Tournament with a 64-48 victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tina Wirth led the Dores with 21 points, and Jessica Mooney added 11. Olayinka Sanni was the leading scorer for West Virginia with 14 points

Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb's philosophy is that the first four minutes of each half are the most important parts of a game.

And for the second game in a row, her team showed that they have bought into her philosophy by jumping out to big early leads. Against Montana on Saturday, Vanderbilt led11-3 in the early going, and on Monday night, the Dores jumped out to an 11-2 lead against West Virginia.

But unfortunately for the Dores, that early lead didn't last. After West Virginia called time out to stop the run, the Mountaineers switched to a zone defense, and Vanderbilt responded with a plethora of turnovers. Those turnovers – eight in a 10-minute span – allowed the Mountaineers to overtake the Dores and take a 6-point lead at 24-18 with five minutes left in the first half.

After that, Vanderbilt settled down and stopped the bleeding, but still trailed by two points at 29-27 at the end of the half.

In the locker room at halftime, Balcomb asked the team to make some adjustments. One of the particularly troubling statistics for Vanderbilt in the first half was 15 turnovers, which led to 11 points for West Virginia.

"My philosophy in transition is to go fast to slow, and then fast again and change speeds," she said. "But we went from fast to faster and got out of control. I think we turned the basketball over, some of them were totally unforced, not protecting the basketball."

The other statistic that caused trouble in the first half was the five 3-pointers by the Mountaineers.

"This was a team we were supposed to take the 3-point shot away," Balcomb said. "Tthat was the other thing I was upset about at halftime. A lot of those 3s came because we weren't aggressive enough on defense."

As it turned out, in the second half, the players put into action what the coaches had asked of them. After committing 15 turnovers in the first half, in the second half, they committed only seven. And after allowing five 3-pointers in the first half, in the second half, West Virginia connected on only one 3-pointer in seven attempts.

But the game didn't turn around immediately. For the first few minutes of the second half, the lead see-sawed back and forth. After Merideth Marsh hit a 3-pointer to put Vanderbilt ahead on the first possession of the second half to give the Dores the lead, West Virginia countered with two easy layups by Olayinka Sanni. After Tina Wirth hit another 3-pointer, Sanni scored on yet another layup to put the Mountaineers back on top. Then Jen Risper scored on a driving layup, then again on a jumper to put the Dores back on top by two points at 37-35 at the first media timeout of the second half.

Coming out of the timeout, Liz Sherwod entered the lineup to help neutralize Sanni, who had scored six points in the first five minutes of the game.

"Liz was huge for us, defensively especially," said Balcomb. "When [Sanni] drop steps and scores, you can't double down from anywhere, you can't help, so what we tried to do was put Liz in, let her play behind and let people help down, and then have Liz challenge her shot and make her shoot over Liz."

After that, Sanni only scored two more points in the rest of the half. In the meantime, Vanderbilt slowly began to pull away, taking their first double-digit lead of the game at 51-40 on a 3-pointer by Wirth just before the media timeout at the 8:27 mark.

"I think we could sense that they hit a wall," said Balcomb. "We said they had lost momentum, that they were putting their heads down, they were walking, they were looking over to the coach for timeouts.

"We talked about coming together when we're tired, when there's adversity, and we saw them going that way, and that got our kids excited," she said.

Coming out of the timeout, Vanderbilt took command of the game, In the remaining eight minutes of the game, the Dores hit four of their five shots from the field, including 3-pointers by Marsh, Wirth, and Jessica Mooney.

On the other hand, the Mountaineers only managed two field goals out of 13 attempts and scored only one point on a free throw in the final three minutes of the game, allowing the Dores to seal the 64-46 victory.

With the victory, Vanderbilt advances to the Regional Semifinals in Spokane, Washington, next Saturday. Their next opponent will be the winner of the Tuesday night game between #1-seed Maryland and #8-seed Nebraska. Top Stories