Tuomi leads VU to 71-60 chomp on Gators

No one stresses team play more than Vanderbilt, but Wednesday night belonged to Hannah Tuomi. The forward who this time last year endured a season-ending stress fracture just before the SEC tourney, got her groove on for a perfect 10-of-10 from the field and 6-of-9 from the free throw line for a career high 26 points to help stop the Florida Gators, 71-60.

The ‘Dores improved to 20-8 for the season and more importantly, 9-6 in Southeastern Conference play in a bid for a first-round bye at the SEC Tournament March 4-7.

Assisting in the point total and stops on the Gators were Jence Rhoads, now shooting free of tape and a splint from a broken left hand, for 16 points (12 in the second half), and senior Merideth Marsh, perfect from the free throw line at 4 of 4 and 4 of 9 in field goals for 13 points. Guard Gabby Smith scored two of the night's five 3-pointers, along with Merideth, Lauren Lueders and Elan Brown. Vandy shot 57.8% for the game and out-rebounded the Gators 31-24.

Florida was without 6-4 center Azania Stewart, who suffered a stress fracture and has missed four games. The center recorded five blocks against Vandy in Gainesville on February 4 and held Hannah to 6 points in the ‘Dores 66-58 win.

"We're having to step up and play differently in Azania 's absence and you have to give Coach (Melanie) Balcomb the credit for realizing a weakness we have and executing her game plan," said Florida Coach Amanda Butler. "(Hannah) Tuomi was so dominant and that's a tremendous individual performance by her, but poor defense by us. When you're playing on Vanderbilt's home floor, you have to come out strong and we were just playing catch up the whole game. Tuomi came to play tonight and I was disappointed with the way we played our post defense."

Playing with power and confidence on both ends of the court, Hannah ripped through Florida's defenses for her best conference game of the season, the fifth time in 14 previous SEC games she has scored in double digits. The Thornton, Colo. native hit 23 points against Tennessee State in 2008.

"I'm not really sure what the difference was tonight," Hannah said. "I think tonight was my night. Every night, someone on our team steps up and has a major role and that was just me tonight. I was just expecting to leave it all out on the floor and I just happened to be in the right place in the right time. I didn't realize I was 10-for-10 until afterwards."

Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb was effusive about multiple aspects of Hannah's game. "She was strong, confident, and took her time. We watch film every week and to be honest with you, she does everything. Hannah is our screen-setter and our rebound player. She seals her player so that when we drive, her player can't get over and help. She runs end line to end line without even touching the ball. She's one of the toughest players I've ever met. I love when a kid who just loves and gives everything for the game plays like that."

The Gators surged in the second half, cutting Vandy's lead to 1 point at 40-39 with 12:33 remaining, but a layup by Hannah reversed the tide. Vandy went up by 8 points on a 3-ball by Gabby. At 6:57, a 3-pointer by Steffi Sorenson cut the lead to 3 points again, but Merideth Marsh responded with another 3-pointer to put the game away for good. The ‘Dores led by as much as 13 points.

Vanderbilt plays its' last home game of the season on Sunday at noon CST in a bout with South Carolina on Senior Day. Merideth, Lauren, Jessica Mooney and Ashlee Bridge will be honored immediately following the game.

Hannah Tuomi on the air with CSS TV commentators.

Lauren Lueders grabs huddle time with teammates in the second half.

Jessica Mooney flies for a layup.

Jence Rhoads catches a pass for a layup.

Merideth Marsh faces Gator height.

Gabby Smith puts pressure on the ball handler.

Hannah Tuomi in one of 10 perfect moves to the basket.

VandyMania.com Top Stories