Last season TCU won the C-USA regular season championship with a record of 24-7. Jeff Mittie won conference coach of the year honors each of the last two seasons.
Coming off four losses in the early season to top 25 teams, including a disappointing 68-64 loss to #15 Oklahoma, TCU saw the Vanderbilt game as an opportunity to get their season on track. The Lady Frogs were highly motivated to win this game. They had a nice crowd that grew louder as the game wore on. Unfortunately, Vanderbilt did not match TCU's intensity or desire until midway through the second half.
The game started slowly for both teams. After five minutes of play the score was tied at 4. TCU's 6'4" post player, Sandora Irvin, is a lean athlete who resembles Michelle Snow. She and the 6'2" Tiffany Evans immediately collapsed on Chantelle Anderson whenever Vanderbilt passed the ball into the post. Chantelle simply didn't have many scoring opportunities early in the game.
In addition to TCU's defense, Chantelle was also plagued by foul trouble and an upset stomach. In fact, she headed to the locker room with 8:00 remaining in the half. She returned to action shortly before halftime.
The pace was very slow in the first five minutes of the game. TCU's aggressive man to man defense was aided by Vanderbilt's sloppy play. Vanderbilt was called for two three-second violations and four offensive fouls in the first eight minutes of the game. The Commodores had no offensive rhythm and few running opportunities, scoring no fast break points in the first half.
TCU was patient offensively. Throughout the game they hit shots as the shot clock expired. Vanderbilt forced only six TCU turnovers in the forced half while giving up 13 of their own. The Commodores were also unable to defend TCU's outside shooters. TCU hit eight treys in the game, including five from guard Tricia Payne.
TCU capped a 15-0 run in the first half with a sequence that was a microcosm of the entire game. Anderson had just left the game with her second foul. TCU guard Niki Newton missed both free throws when Ashley Mac committed her second foul.
However, on the second miss, Irvin grabbed the offensive rebound and scored. TCU pressed off the made shot. Candace Baldwin stole the inbounds pass from Ashley Mac and scored. The Lady Frogs led 17-4 with ten minutes to play in the first half.
Late in the half this unfortunate sequence was repeated, as TCU guard Kim Ortega stole an inbounds pass from Hillary Hager and converted the layup opportunity. TCU did not press throughout the game, but when they did it was effective. TCU either forced a turnover or made Vanderbilt take a difficult shot in their half-court set.
Foul trouble and turnovers were the theme of the first half. With seven minutes remaining in the half, Mac, Anderson and Tia Battle each had two fouls. The early fouls forced Coach Balcomb to substitute frequently. None of the combinations brought the Commodores out of their offensive funk, however.
TCU continued to work the shot clock beautifully for the remainder of the first half. Irvin and Grace Gantt both hit shots as the shot clock expired. TCU's quick guards were able to penetrate against the Commodore guards. Although Jenni Benningfield picked up several charges, the TCU penetration often led to an open shot.
Benningfield and Anderson were bottled up by TCU's collapsing defense in the paint. Each finished the half with four points.
Any Vanderbilt fans hoping to see the Commodores charge out of the locker room after halftime were sorely disappointed. Up 34-21, TCU went on an 18-4 run to start the second half. TCU stretched the lead to 52-25 on a layup by Ebony Shaw almost six minutes into the second half.With Vanderbilt unable to make a run, the only suspense left was TCU's margin of victory.
One bright spot in an otherwise depressing evening was Vanderbilt's ability to disrupt TCU's offense with an aggressive half-court trap that Coach Balcomb began to employ a few minutes into the second half. The trapping defense seemed to wake up the Commodores. Their intensity increased, but by that point it was too late.
Vanderbilt's offense never got untracked. In the second half the Commodores seemed to make a concerted effort to feed the ball to Anderson more. Although she was still double-teamed, she had more scoring opportunities than she did in the first half. She apparently felt better after halftime too.
Coach Balcomb became increasingly frustrated with the officiating in the second half. After Abi Ramsey was called for a foul, one of the Vanderbilt assistants walked over to the head coach and made a "T" with her hands. Moments later a technical foul was called on the Vanderbilt bench. The technical appeared to be more deliberate than spontaneous, but that's only speculation on my part.
This was a landmark victory for TCU. It was their first win ever over a team ranked in the top 10. The team celebrated at mid-court at the final buzzer.
In sum, this game boiled down to TCU's intensity at home, their ability to score late in the shot clock, and Vanderbilt's inability to execute on offense. TCU held the Commodores 33 points below their scoring average. Vanderbilt made only five assists for the entire game, fifteen below their average.
If TCU continues to play this way, look for them to reappear in the top 25, win their conference and advance to the NCAA tournament for the third straight year. Their quickness and size are comparable to teams in the SEC.
This was a good opportunity for the Commodores to play a quality, experienced opponent on the road. Unfortunately, they didn't pass this test. Vanderbilt appears tentative and seems to lack confidence, which are odd qualities for a top 10 team with Vanderbilt's tradition.
SEC play looms in two weeks with a road trip to Mississippi State. Nearly every team in the conference has talent equal to or better than TCU, so the next few non-conference games are critical. Let's hope this trip to Fort Worth becomes a learning experience, not a pattern.
Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb:
"You've got to learn from wins and you've got to learn even more from losses. We'll watch the tape and learn a lot from this game."
"They played very, very hard. They were very intense. They play a lot of people. They're very, very physical. They pressure a tremendous amount of time. They did a great job of that for forty minutes."
"They looked very, very good on film. They have one of the best schedules in the country. We were not surprised at all [by TCU]. I also know what their home record is, so I know they don't lose much at home, and I found out why."
"Their pressure put us on our heels all night. They were more aggressive and physical."
(On what she said to get the technical: )"That's none of your business (pause) ... no curse words though." "We didn't do a good job in our three-quarter court trap, so we decided to trap in the half-court. Try to force them to take some quick shots, or get some quick turnovers because we needed to speed it up since we were down by so many. We were trying to Increase the possessions and try to make a mistake or take a quick shot. We've been trapping out of our matchup for eight games now, so we pretty much went to that. And I thought the last ten minutes of the game we did a good job with it. They hit so many shots with four seconds or under, I think that was the toughest part mentally. I was really proud of how we played the last ten or fifteen minutes of the game. Our kids played extremely hard. I was really proud of their effort on defense. It was the best we played all night (on defense) and then there would be between four and one second left and they hit big shots, and I think that mentally was really tough. At that point they were so on that we really struggled with stopping their momentum."
"They have nice size, they had a great mix of athleticism and strong, physical size. They have a lot of thick, solid, strong kids matched up with a lot of quickness. I said on the bus on the way here (that) I love his team because he can play so many people and they have a great mix. He does a great job recruiting; he's got a great mix of athletes and strength and shooters and drivers. There's just about everything on this (TCU's) team. All your roles. And depth to go with it."
Vanderbilt Senior Center Chantelle Anderson:
"Let's not ask me about the officials because I can't say anything about them anyway."
"I got sick in the first half. I was really feeling horrible. So I let that get to me, which I shouldn't, but that's why I didn't start the second half. I was still in the locker room. I let that get to me a little bit too much. After the second half I got something for it. We just started executing better late in the second half. I started playing better and I knew that I had to step up and at least, if we couldn't win, I had to give my team something to look forward to."
"They've done a great job of playing without me at times. I don't think I was really off, I just didn't get a lot of shots. Other people were taking shots. I don't really think it was bad in the first half - I think our shots weren't falling and we weren't playing good defense. We were playing scared. I don't think me being off had anything to do with it. It would have been nice if I could have made a couple of shots."
"That is frustrating when you play defense for twenty-something seconds and then they hit a shot with three seconds, four seconds, two seconds left to go in the shot clock. That's frustrating. A lot of times we played good defense and then broke down at the last second or they hit a great shot. That is frustrating. I have to give them props for that because they did well."
(On her earlier comment that they were playing scared): "We're the number eight team in the country. What do we have to be scared of? We're going to have to figure that out, because you cannot walk into any game in the SEC or, as we found out [tonight], any game against a good team. You can't walk into any game scared like that. We have to figure out why we did that and how to fix it. We didn't execute, we backed away from pressure, we let them push us. We can't do that. You can't do that against a good team and expect to win."
(On their intensity in the first half): "It definitely wasn't [there]. We weren't talking. Communication is key. We weren't doing that. I know that everyone saw a distinct difference from the first half and the second half, late second half. That's how we have to play. We proved that we could play like that and I think if that's the only good thing we took out of this game, it's that we executed our half-court zone defense better than we have all year. With our traps and running our defense in the second half we executed better than we have all year. In a game like this you have to take positives away from this."
(On trapping defense): "It's fun to play when you get traps, get steals, getting offensive foul calls - on them (laughs). Its fun when you're playing it right - it wasn't fun in the first half."
Texas Christian's Tricia Payne, right, reaches for a rebound against Vanderbilt's Abi Ramsey during the second half Saturday, Dec. 28, 2002, in Fort Worth, Texas. TCU won 70-53. Payne became the fifth player in TCU history to score 1,000 points in her career. She now has 1,010 points. (AP Photo/Amy E. Conn)
Vanderbilt's Chantelle Anderson (21) recovers a rebound during the second half against Texas Christian, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2002, in Fort Worth, Texas. TCU defeated Vanderbilt 70-53. (AP Photo/Amy E. Conn)
Texas Christian forward Niki Newton, right, reaches for a loose ball as Vanderbilt's Ashley Earley watches during the first half Saturday, Dec. 28, 2002, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Amy E. Conn)
Texas Christian forward Tiffany Evans, right, and Vanderbilt's Ashley Earley, left, reach for a loose ball during the first half Saturday, Dec. 28, 2002, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Amy E. Conn)