Women's Hoops: Alabama Press Conference

After Vanderbilt's 80-69 victory over the Crimson Tide, Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb, followed by some Vanderbilt players and Alabama Head Coach Rick Moody, answered questions from the press.

The Press: First off, what do you think of Chantelle's performance -- perfect from the field despite the foot problem?

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, I think Chantelle is working very hard on her mental toughness and playing hurt, and I think she's limited in what she can do, but still came out and played hard and did everything she could for the team, and that's all we ask of her, and I'd really proud how she's been able to play through this injury.

The Press: How close a decision was it, whether to play her or not?

Coach Balcomb: She couldn't do any more damage to it, so it was basically a pain tolerance issue, and she wanted to play and was very excited when-- she's wearing a shoe that has metal inside to protect, to help her not to bend and have all her weight on that toe. So she knew then it wasn't a matter that it could get hurt any more, but that she knew that it would be very very sore. And it is a very very painful injury, but every day it's felt a little better, but I know it isn't close to being where we hope it will be soon.

The Press: Coach, Tia Battle didn't play at all tonight?

Coach Balcomb: Uh-uh. (Shaking head.) Coach's decision.

The Press: Will she play on Sunday at Kentucky?

Coach Balcomb: I do not know.

The Press: Coach, you had Erica and Ashley in there together, would you talk about that a little bit?

Coach Balcomb: With Tia not playing tonight, we worked in Erica who's been getting better every day in practice and had a lot of opportunities to play and get some experience when Mac was down. So we really wanted to see if-- we thought this team would really pack it in, which they did. . . . I think the best way to put it was they were really packing it in on Chantelle or Jenni. They were just giving us any shots we wanted from the outside, so we really wanted Mac to shoot the ball today, and I thought. from the 2-guard, from the wing, that would be a great opportunity because that was where they were sagging down on us defensively. So the game plan was to get her off early shooting the three. We needed that.

The Press: Talk also about Jenni, she had a miserable game against UT and tonight had 19 points and 11 rebounds. Did she get inspiration from her performance in that game?

Coach Balcomb: Yes, I think Jenni's a really smart girl and focused, and I think she wanted-- it's like anything else, she's a competitor and wanted to come back strong, like everybody did against the loss. I don't think any of us played well against Tennessee, really, so I think everybody was really looking to redeem themselves after that loss, Jenni included. She was back to old form, which is nice to know.

The Press: Second half, Alabama 53 points after 16 points in the first half. What's behind that?

Coach Balcomb: That's a good question. I know a lot of it has been in the past that we have good defensive stops underneath our basket because we're there, and we're talking and the whole bench is talking. I think a lot of it is a communmication thing, where we're not as good down at the other end, because we're not helping the defense to talk, and they have to be accountable to talk for themselves. We've noticed a pattern with that, and the other thing is that they got more offensive boards in the second half. I think they had a string there of put-backs. They might have gotten some offensive boards in the first half but didn't score off them, they weren't put-backs, and they got like eight straight put-backs that one time, so check out was also a problem.

The Press: (Question asked by someone who came in late.)You might have already answered this, but noticeably absent tonight was Tia. What did you say about that?

Coach Balcomb: I just said "coach's decision".

The Press: What do you expefct her status to be Sunday at Kentucky?

Coach Balcomb: I don't know. It'll be coach's decision again.

The Press: Did you feel like she was missed tonight?

Coach Balcomb: I think when any player that's been playing for you and giving us the things that Tia has given us, yeah, I think we could have used Tia tonight. I think we can use Tia every night.

The Press: I think Alabama had two 3-pointers first half, and you knew going in that they were a perimeter shooting team. They got off a little bit more in the second half. Was it something different they were doing offensively that you saw, or was it defensive?

Coach Balcomb: I don't think it was defense. We played more zone in the first half, which is where you'd think you'd give up the 3's, and didn't play as much man. And then in the second half when they hit a lot of those 3's, then we went man and they were still getting them. I just don't think we did a good job in our man-to-man, and we haven't played a lot of man as of late because of the teams we've been struggling matching up with, and this is a team because of the shooters they have, you almost have to play them man. Everybody's been playing them man all year, so it puts you in a difficult position. We worked on it to prepare for this game, but we really haven't played a lot of it, and it kind of exploited the fact that we really need to improve in our man-to-man, and that's why as you see we're not playing a lot of teams man-to-man. I think their penetration killed us, and then they kicked to the shooters, and that's been why we haven't played a lot of man is the penetration, getting beat off the dribble.

The Press: in the second half it got down to four, but you held them. Is that a positive?

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, that was a positive. We talked about negatives first, checking out and giving up as many points as we did in the second half and those things. But the positive was we handled ourselves. They got very very physical in the second half and just kept sending more players in and were bumping us. And they called a lot of fouls, but I think what's really important to build on is that we held our composure after they made those runs and got very physical, and I think were trying to get us upset and emotional. And I think we panicked early, and then we calmed down. And once we calmed down and realized, okay, this is how they're going to play us, and we need to just handle it and settle down, I thought we handled that well.

The Press: Midway through your SEC campaign, where do you think you stack up?

Coach Balcomb: That's so hard, because I know that Kentucky is a different team at home than they are away, and my players know that. They're a very very good team at home, so it's like I just look from game to game right now because of our inconsistency -- we win one game, and we lose one game. I'm looking to the next game and saying every game is very very tough in this conference. We want to make sure that we stay in the upper half of the conference, and we've got to win more consistently down the stretch.

The Press: Will a game like this help you build that momentum?

Coach Balcomb: Well, I think anytime winning just helps your confidence and being able to fight off people and come back. You just have to take that from game to game, so no matter what situation you're in, you can think back to something to give you confidence. And the more situations we are in and come out in the positive, the more confidence we're going to have in close games down the stretch. And again, being able to win on the road, maybe that Auburn game will help us when we get to Kentucky. We just have to use these things.

The Press: Did you talk about McElhiney going over 1000 points?

Coach Balcomb: I knew it was a possibility happening in this game and didn't want to talk about it or focus on it because you never want to jinx somebody or have them think too much. The game plan was to have Mac shoot a lot tonight. We really knew they were going to pack it in, which they did, so we wanted her to be a threat from the wing, which is where they were doubling down from, so we put Erica in. From day one preparing for this team and in shoot-around especially and the whole game, I just said Mac keep shooting, Mac keep shooting, Mac, you have to shoot tonight, and that was a big part of the game plan, and for a while there, she was the only one on our team scoring. She really stepped up and did exactly what I asked her to do.

The Press: Is that something you especially want to do when you play a 3-point shooting team like Alabama, match them 3 for 3?

Coach Balcomb: A lot of it is dictated by what their defense is going to do, and they were packing it in from the wings. You could have thrown any skip pass you wanted to the opposite wing and had a shot. And Mac has been shooting the ball well as of late, and I knew she'd have the confidence to knock it down, so that's why we tried to put her at the 2 sometimes and let Erica handle it up top. And Erica is getting better every day and has some experience now. When Mac got injured, we were hoping it would make us stronger, and it did. It made us more versatile tonight, and we needed that tonight.

The Press: Are you pleased to get 24 minutes out of Chantelle in light of her situation?

Coach Balcomb: Very pleased. Again, we talked about this earlier before you got her, but you're asking all the right questions. That's a good thing. (Laughter.) I'll answer that question again for you, no problem. Chantelle was really so positive, her attitude with this injury has shown a lot of mental tougheness, and that's something that she's worked so hard on. And she played in pain tonight, and I was hoping not to play her as much, but she played more minutes than we expected, and we're just really pleased with her progress, and a lot of it's just being able to be mentally tough and wanting to play and being ready to go. Her attitude has been wonderful concerning this whole injury, and she has been willing to do whatever the team needs for her to do. That's what we need right now, and that's what she's giving us. No, she's not close to 100%. She's not where we'd like her to be, but --

The Press: It's pretty much day to day? Yeah. It's getting better every day, but--

Coach Balcomb left, and senior center Chantelle Anderson, senior point guard Ashley McElhiney, and junior forward Jenni Benningfield came in for their turn.

The Press: Ashley, what's the matter you don't like Alabama? You hit 5 against them tonight, and five against them that other time?

Ashley Mac: I didn't realize that I had hit five my freshman or sophomore year. They were just falling.

The Press: I know you're not big into your own personal numbers, but you scored your 1000th point tonight.

Chantelle: Yeah, she's tripping. (Laughs.)

Ashley Mac: Chantelle tried to celebrate when it happened, and I was like, well, we've still have 32 minutes to play, or however many it was. But it feels good.

The Press: Does it feel better than the points came in a win and that they came in the run that came late in the half to put ya''l ahead?

Ashley Mac: Yeah, that was what I was worried about. It'd be bad if we hadn't have won.

The Press: Did you realize that you were going to have to shoot a lot?

Ashley Mac: Well, she's been telling me the past two days to shoot, and I worked at the 2-guard yesterday and today in the shoot-around, and she told me to look for my shot, and I did that. It was falling, thank goodness.

The Press: Have you talked to Chantelle about how to handle injuries?

Ashley Mac: Well, she did pretty good tonight. Seven for seven, and you couldn't really tell that she was hurting at all. I know she was. It takes a lot to come out there and play the minutes she played, and she lost it for a few minutes, but then she got herself together and came back in and made some big shots at the end.

The Press: How did it feel?

Chantelle: A lot better. I think after the game that it happened, we had a day off and then I didn't practice the last two days. I've been walking around in a boot, so I think it was good for it to get a the rest. It was a little sore. I think it's going to be sore for a while, but it's nothing that I can't deal with. It's not excruciating or anything.

The Press: Do you think it'll be better in a month when tournament time rolls around?

Chantelle: I hope so. I don't know, but I sure hope so.

The Press: Jenni, do you feel like tonight was kind of a response to the UT game for you personally. Do you feel like you had to post some big numbers to kind of rebound from that game?

Jenni: I'm not really worried about-- I felt a lot more confident coming into today's game. I had a day to think about the Tennessee game and two days to practice and work on the things I didn't do in the Tennessee game, and I think I had that game in the back of my mind, and to me, my thing tonight wasn't getting the stats, it was doing the little things I didn't do, and to really just respond in that respect. My numbers -- that's great, but I'm more proud of the fact that I did the little things that I needed to do.

The Press: Could you talk about what those little things are?

Jenni: Stepping up on defense, charges, rebounding, blocking out, getting the ball inside and to the shooters in a way that they can do something with it for them to shoot, things like that. I just felt so out of sync against Tennessee, and tonight I felt a lot more into the game, I guess. So I'm just going to take that and go on with that for every game from here on out so that it doesn't happen again.

The Vanderbilt players left, and Alabama Head Coach Rick Moody came in. The Alabama SID points out that the 16 first half points were the fewest Alabama has scored in a half this year, and the 53 second half points were the highest total for a half this year.

Coach Moody: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde returns. It's been that way for us really the entire year. It's not just tonight. It's not just this week. I wish I had the answer, but I don't. Ironically, I was reading the paper today, and I was reading what Chantelle and I think Ashley were talking about the Vanderbilt team and their inconsistencies. And I think their quote was when we're good, we're really good, and when we're bad, we're really bad, and that's the way this game was tonight. Really good in the second half, really bad in the first half.

The Press: Was it anything in particular Vandy did in the first half and didn't do in the second?

Coach Moody: No. In both halves it was more about what we didn't do. In the first half, we did not get the movement in our half court offense and take advantage of the way we knew Vandy defended. And then in the second half, we came out and got much more active on the offensive end, and played at the basket a lot. And they were spread out guarding our shooters, and then when we got the ball to the post, that opened up some outside looks and we were ableto knock them down.

But you've got to give Chantelle and Benningfield the credit. In the first half our plan was to force them to shoot the ball on the perimeter, and guess what, that wasn't a very good plan. Because in the second half we said we'll just play the post players straight up and take away their perimeter people, and either way you guard Vanderbilt, you've got to choose your poison. They're good enough shooters, they're going to burn you if you help inside, but if you spread your defense out, look at their numbers 14 of 17 from the field combined. That'll win a lot of games in any league. And I thought we were playing pretty hard.

The Press: Speaking of inconsistency, with 13 bodies on the court, do you want to talk about the perceived inconsistency of the three who weren't players on the teams?

Coach Moody: I have had my butt chewed. I would not even consider making an excuse.

The Press: In the second half, it also seemed like it changed when you had Beth Vice taking the point.

Coach Moody: Well, it changed before then, but it was a real good stretch for us. She was playing at the point and obviously, she's very much more of an offensive minded point guard, well, she's not a point guard, but she's much more of an offensive minded ball-handler than Manisha is, and she found some people open underthe basket and hit a couple of shots and I think it created some more problems for Vanderbilt's defensive plan. But that was a good stretch during the game for us.

The Press: Coach, I know you're not going to give any excuses, but did the way the Arkansas ended have anything to do with the first half tonight?

Coach Moody: I don't know if it had anything to do with the first half tonight, but I think it had a lot to do with our practice on Tuesday. I think it had a lot to do with our practice on Wednesday because we were not very good, because we were not very good. We did not prepare to win this game like we normally prepare, and that was very discouraging to me because I have not quit on this team. I will never quit on this team, and I thought I had sensed that they had given up on themselves, and that will not be tolerated in any form or fashion. And last nightwe had a little prayer meeting, and it was-- and I laid my cards on the table. But I think in the first half we were just tentative. When you turn the basketball over 13 times in one half and four times in the next half and you're playing twice as fast, a lot more crisp -- all I could ask my team after the game is "Y'all tell me how ya'll wanta play. I'll let you play how you want to play. Ya'll play defense like I want you to play; ya'll play offense like you want to play." I don't know. Unfortunately, I didn't get any answers. Thank you, guys.

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Photos of Coach Melanie Balcomb, Ashley McElhiney, Ashley McElhiney with Jenni Benningfield, Chantelle Anderson, and the three Vanderbilt players by Micah Miller for VandyMania.

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