Women's Hoops: Vanderbilt gets first SEC win

The Vanderbilt Commodores won their first SEC game of the season Sunday afternoon with a convincing 84-50 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats in Memorial Gym.

The victory, however, was marred early in the game when senior point guard Ashley McElhiney fell to the court in obvious pain and subsequently left the game with a severe high ankle sprain. Freshman walk-on point guard Erica Grimaldi took over the point guard duties for the remainder of the game.

For most of the first half the game was close. A couple of Kentucky 3-pointers from Sara Potts and Rita Adams for Kentucky and a layup and an old-fashioned 3-point play by Chantelle Anderson put the score at 6-5 before a fastbreak by Adams gave the Wildcats an 8-5 lead with 17:59 remaining.

McElhiney's injury occurred as she was bringing the ball up the court following Adams' layup. Grimaldi entered the game and notched her first assist shortly afterwards when Hillary Hager scored on an inbounds play, and shortly afterwards a basket by Jenni Benningfield gave Grimaldi her second assist and the Commodores their first lead of the night at 9-8 at the 16:37 mark.

Then, for the next twelve minutes, the teams battled neck and neck, with eight ties and seven lead changes. With six minutes left in the half and the Commodores holding a slim one-point lead at 25-24, senior center Chantelle Anderson picked up her second foul of the game and went to the bench for the remainder of the half, leaving Vanderbilt with both of the seniors on the bench.

But the rest of the team proved up to the task. A layup by Benningfield on backdoor cut with an assist from Grimaldi tied the game for the last time at 30-30 with 3:43 left in the half.

But from there on, it was all Vanderbilt, as the Commodores grabbed every rebound for the rest of the half and capitalized on every possession, scoring in a variety of ways. Benningfield and Hager both scored on drives, Hager scored on an offensive rebound and a putback and also sank one of a pair of awarded free throws, and sophomore guard Tia Battle scored on a fastbreak following a steal by Hager. The 9-0 run gave the Commodores a 39-30 halftime lead.

Coming out of the locker room, for the first two minutes the teams traded a couple of baskets to put the score at 44-34. But then the Commodores held the Wildcats scoreless for ten minutes as Vanderbilt when on a 20-0 run to build a 30-point lead at 64-34 before a 3-pointer by Adams broke the long Kentucky scoring drought.

From there on, the Wildcats never managed to cut the Vanderbilt lead to less than 26 points, and with 3:33 left, the Commodores held their biggest lead of the night at 77-42. Over the next few minutes, Vanderbilt cleared the bench and cruised to the 84-50 victory.

Vanderbilt was led in scoring by Jenni Benningfield with 24 points, a new career high, including three of four from 3-point range. Chantelle Anderson and Abi Ramsey each added 17 with nine of Anderson's points coming from the free throw line and Ramsey connecting on four of six from 3-point range. Benningfield and Ashley Earley each had eight rebounds for Vanderbilt, and Grimaldi finished with nine assists. Benningfield blocked three shots, and four different Commodores had two steals.

Rita Adams and SeSe Helm led Kentucky with 12 points each, and Helm was the leading rebounder with seven. Racquel Ellis had three assists, and Adams had four steals.

For the game, Vanderbilt shot 54.9% from the field (50% from 3-point range) and 67.7% from the line. Kentucky shot 43.8% from the field (37.5% from 3-point range). The Wildcats only attempted one free throw for the game and missed it. Vanderbilt held a substantial edge on the boards, 35-24, including 15 offensive rebounds. The Commodores also had fewer turnovers, with 14 compared to 23 for Kentucky.

With the win, Vanderbilt improves to 11-5 (1-2 SEC) while Kentucky falls to 8-7 (1-2 SEC). Next action for the Commodores is a Thursday night game in Memorial Gym against the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks, who defeated #2 LSU Sunday afternoon in Fayetteville. The game completes a three-game homestand for the Commodores, who travel to LSU next Sunday to take on the Lady Tigers.

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Photos of Erica Grimaldi bringing the ball up court, Hillary Hager scoring off the assist from Grimaldi, Tia Battle finishing the fast break, Jenni Benningfield looking for the hand off, Benningfield sinking the 3-pointer, Abi Ramsey hitting a free throw, Chantelle Anderson battling for position, and Ashley McElhiney on the sidelines taken by Micah Miller for VandyMania.

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