Women's Hoops: Hot shooting 'dores deck Lady backs

The air outside Memorial Gym was frigid, but inside the Commodores were red-hot as they set an all-time Vanderbilt record for field goal percentage as they defeated the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks 76-59 on Thursday night.

The Commodores' sizzling 72.5% from the field narrowly eclipsed the former record of 71.4% set last year at Western Kentucky. The record resulted indirectly from the Arkansas pressing, trapping defense, which created many wide-open shots for Vanderbilt under the basket after the initial pressure was broken. The Commodores, who currently lead the SEC in 3-pointers made per game, didn't take a single shot from outside the arc.

Freshman point guard Erica Grimaldi made her first collegiate start, as senior point guard Ashley McElhiney is still rehabilitating a severely sprained ankle sustained in Sunday's game against Kentucky. McElhiney didn't dress out for the game, but she was standing without the aid of crutches, cheering the team on.

The first few minutes of the game were neck-and-neck. Vanderbilt scored first on a driving layup by Tia Battle, but several lead changes later, the two teams were dead-locked at 12-12 with twelve minutes left in the half.

But then the Commodores reeled off a 10-0 run, fueled by six points from Jenni Benningfield, to give Vanderbilt a 22-12 lead with nine minutes left in the half. Arkansas briefly cut the lead back to five points at 24-19, but when the teams headed for the locker room at halftime, the Commodores were once again leading by 10 at 33-23.

Coming out of intermission, the Commodores led by as much as 15 before the Ladybacks began to make a serious run about halfway through the second half. First a couple of three-pointers by India Lewis cut the lead back to single digits, then Commodore fouls put Arkansas into the bonus, allowing them to capitalize at the line. Four made free throws cut the Vanderbilt lead down to only five points at 48-43 with eleven minutes remaining.

But, as it turned out, Arkansas could get no closer. The Commodores continued to score off the drive, the fast break, and on long baseball passes entirely over the Arkansas defense. With three minutes left in the game, the Vanderbilt lead passed 20 points for the first time on a layup by Chantelle Anderson. During the waning minutes, Shameka Christon drained a couple of three pointers, but it was too little, too late, and Vanderbilt claimed the 76-59 victory.

Vanderbilt was led in scoring by Jenni Benningfield who broke her career scoring record for the second game in a row. On Sunday, she broke her career high with 24 points against Kentucky. Then, in this game, she scored 28 points on 12 of 14 shooting from the field, none of them 3-pointers. Chantelle Anderson added 25 points as at least WNBA scout looked on. Tia Battle had 15 points, a new career high for her.

Benningfield was also leading rebounder with ten, giving her her seventh double double of the season. Anderson added seven boards, and Tia Battle had six. Benningfield led the team in assists with six, followed by Grimaldi with four. Anderson and Hillary Hager each had four steals.

Arkansas was led in scoring by Shameka Christon with 22 points. No other Lady Razorback scored in double figures. Freshman reserve Sarah Pfeifer was leading rebounder with eight. Combined, the Arkansas starters only had one offensive rebound and combined for only six rebounds for the game.

For the game, Vanderbilt shot 72.5% from the field with no 3-point attempts and shot 69.2% from the line. Arkansas shot 34.5% from the field (22.2% from behind the arc) and 69.2% from the line. Vanderbilt controlled the boards 36-24. Arkansas's pressure forced 24 Vanderbilt turnovers resulting in 26 points for the Lady Razorbacks, while they only committed 15 turnovers themselves.

With the win, Vanderbilt improves to 12-5 (2-2 SEC), while Arkansas falls to 16-3 (3-1 SEC). Next Vanderbilt travels to Baton Rouge to play the LSU Lady Tigers on Sunday afternoon, while Arkansas travels to Auburn for another Sunday game against the Tigers on the plain.

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VandyMania photos of Erica Grimaldi at the point, Ashely Earley going up for the layup, Hillary Hager battling the Arkansas pressure, Jenni Benningfield going for the layup, Tia Battle on the fast break, Chantelle Anderson with the jumper, and the Vanderbilt bench by Micah Miller.

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