VU Women Advance to SEC Semifinals

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, AR-- Vanderbilt advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament with a 69-61 victory over the Georgia Lady Bulldogs Friday night in AllTel Arena. Four Dores score in double figures, led by Tina Wirth with 23 points, followed by Tia Gibbs with 13, Merideth Marsh with 12, and Jen Risper with 11.

Vanderbilt jumped out to an early lead and stayed ahead throughout the rest of the game, but it was far from an easy as Vanderbilt was playing once again without starting forward Hannah Tuomi, who is sidelined with a foot injury.

In the first half, Vanderbilt led by as much as 14 points, but Georgia dug out of the hole to close within one point on a couple of occasions in the second half. But each time the Dawgs made a run and threatened to take the lead, Vanderbilt responded to keep them at bay.

With Tumoi out of action, Vanderbilt played a 4-guard lineup the entire game, with 5-9 guard Jen Risper filling the 4-position on the floor. Vanderbilt's lack of size in the post led to a field day for 6-5 Angel Robinson, who scored 29 points on 13-18 shooting and pulled down 16 rebounds for Georgia.

But nobody else scored in double figures for Georgia, and Vanderbilt's defense held the rest of the Lady Dawgs to 31% shooting from the field. Ashley Houts, Georgia's leading scorer, was held to just three points.

Vanderbilt's small lineup also set an SEC tournament record by committing only three turnovers in the entire game. Another highlight was the performance of freshman guard Tia Gibbs, who finished with 13 points in 24 minutes and who was Vanderbilt's leading rebounder with eight boards.

With the victory, Vanderbilt advances to the semifinals on Saturday. Gametime will be 8:00 p.m. against the LSU Lady Tigers, who defeated Mississippi State 63-58 on Friday night.

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Two early baskets by Jessica Mooney, starting in place of injured Hannah Tuomi, helped Vanderbilt to get off to an early lead.

Jence Rhoads scores off the dribble to put Vanderbilt ahead 11-5 early in the first half.

Jen Risper works the ball into the post, then hits the shot and gets the "and one" to give Vanderbilt a 14-7 lead .

Tina Wirth is fouled by Angel Robinson and sinks both free throws to put Vanderbilt ahead 26-14 at the 10:42 mark in the first half.

This 3-pointer by Tia Gibbs late in the first half didn't fall, but the freshman guard would finish with 13 points, including a couple of clutch three pointers down the stretch.

With Vanderbilt's lead growing to as much as 14 points in the first half, Georgia Head Coach Andy Landers showed his frustration at times both with his team and with the officials. By halftime the Vanderbilt lead had been cut to 10 points at 35-25.

At halftime Misty Lamb Thompso was honored as the Vanderbilt "Great" for 2009. Misty played for at Vanderbilt from 1990-93 and was a member of Vanderbilt's only Final Four team in 1993. She still ranks 18th overall on the all-time scoring list.

Early in the second half, Georgia began to close the gap. With 14:33 left, the Lady Dawgs cut the lead to 3 points at 39-36. This basket by Jeni Risper put the Vanderbilt lead back to five points at 41-36.

For the second straight game, Hannah Tuomi, who had started every game this season until a foot injury sidelined her against Tennessee last Sunday, was on the bench once again, forcing Vanderbilt to play with a 4-guard lineup.

The second half turned into a barnburner. Georgia went repeatedly inside to 6-5 Angel Robinson, who finished the game with 29 points. With 5:47 remaining and Vanderbilt leading by five points at 55-50 Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb conferred with Merdieth Marsh while Jen Risper shot free throws.

With 4:42 left in the game, Vanderbilt lead by five points at 57-52. Jen Risper drove the baseline then kicked to Merideth Marsh for a 3-pointer to give the Dores an 8-point lead at 60-52.

But once again, Georgia didn't go away, and with 1:27 left, the Vanderbilt lead had shrunk to just one point at 62-61.

Then, with 1:08 left in the game and Merideth Marsh, assisted by Jen Risper, hit a 3-pointer as the overhead strobe light flashed for the AP photographer to give Vanderbilt a 65-61 lead.

From then on, Vanderbilt's seniors took over. A steal by Jen Risper led to a pair of free throws by Tina Wirth. Then, on Georgia's next possession, Wirth's defensive rebound led to two more free throws to give Vanderbilt a 68-61 lead with eight seconds remaining. Then it only remained for Tia Gibss to grab the last defensive rebound to give Vanderbilt the 69-61 victory.

After the game, Tine Wirth, who finished the game with 23 points, seven rebounds, three steals, three assists and no turnovers, talked to Teresa Edwards of FSN.

With the victory, Vanderbilt advances to the semifinal on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. against the LSU Lady Tigers, who defeated Mississippi State 63-58 on Friday night..

Photos copyright 2009 by WhitneyD for

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