"That was our game plan, to jump on them the first four minutes of the game and then to come back in and jump on them the first four minutes of the second half," said Marsh who tied a school record by hitting eight 3-pointers in the game. "We kept saying, make a statement, make a statement, and I think that's what we did, just let them know that we're not messing around."
After that, the Gators had to play catch-up all night. In the first half, the Vanderbilt lead grew as large as 17 points, before Tina Wirth picked up her second foul and had to spend some time on the bench. While she was out of the game, a run by Florida cut the lead to six points at 31-25 with three minutes left in the half. But the Dores stopped the run and went into halftime leading by eight at 37-29.
Vanderbilt scored the first four points of the second half, but for the first five minutes of the half, the Gators kept the game within reach. They briefly cut the lead to single digits a couple of times, but then three 3-pointers from Marsh over the next five minutes helped the Dores to pull away. With 9:50 left in the game, the Vanderbilt lead reached 20 points and eventually grew to 27 points, the largest of the night, with 4:37 left in the game.
As Vanderbilt's starters left the game and the reservers took over, Florida was able to chip into the lead, but when the final buzzer sounded, the Dores nonetheless won comfortably at 84-68.
Even though the game featured some spectacular fireworks on the offensive end of the court, after the game Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb talked a lot about defense – even when she was talking about her team's 3-point barrage.
"If we struggle defensively, then I think you're a lot tighter on offense. On offense, you've gotta relax. Shooters have to be relaxed," she said. "When we played defense like we played defense tonight, defense like we played at Kentucky, they can relax and make their shots. I just think if we keep getting stops, they're going to make shots.
"I know it sounds crazy, that it's about defense, but I think with them it really is," she continued. "They're not tight when they know we're going to get stops. If they don't know, if we feel like we have to score every time down on offense, then your shooters, because they know that's a good role for them to score, get tighter and they put more pressure on themselves."
Wirth also credited the defense with creating some the outside shots she knocked down in the game. "In the first half I got a lot of open looks because we were pushing so much in transition, and they were having a hard time finding people," she said. "Their post players have a habit of running to the block, so both of them would run down on Hannah and just leave me, so I think that was just a testament to us getting stops and rebounds on defense and being able to push the ball."
According the Balcomb, another key factor in the win was the way that the Dores executed the game plan to limit Florida's "big three": Steffi Sorensen, one of the conference leaders in 3-point shooting, Marshae Dotson, who is leading the league in field goal percentage, and especially Sha Brooks, who has averaged 21.4 ppg in conference play.
"We tried to make Sha work really hard before she caught the ball," said Balcomb. "We watched in the last couple of games especially against Tennessee, I didn't see anybody really making her work to get the ball. She works very hard once she gets it. She has great moves; you can't really stop her. I think she's a tremendous player, but I didn't see people trying to keep the ball out of her hands to begin with."
The effort to keep the ball out of her hands and wear her down paid off, as Brooks finished the game with just seven points after a 29-point outing in Knoxville on Sunday in Florida's win over Tennessee. Sorensen was also held to 2 for 6 from 3-point range, and Dotson only attempted five shots.
With the victory, Vanderbilt moves into a tie with Florida for second place in the SEC with identical 8-2 conference records. Auburn, the first place team with a 9-1 record, will visit Memorial Gym next Thursday on Senior Night.
But before then, Georgia comes to town for the annual "Pink Out" game on Sunday. Game time is 12:00 noon CT, and the game will be part of ESPN's "February Frenzy" whiparound coverage. Fans are encouraged to wear pink to the game.
* * * * *
The Gators wore pink t-shirts for warm-ups.
Tina Wirth hits a 3-pointer in the first half.
Jen Risper scores as shot clock winds down.
Florida Coach Amanda Butler objects to a call.
Tina Wirth is fouled.
Hannah Tuomi scores.
Merideth Marsh hits a 3-pointer.
Hannah Tuomi scores.
Chanel Chisholm gets to the free throw line.
Photos copyright 2009 by Whitney D. for VandyMania.com