The Press: Talk about Jenni's two 3-pointers when Florida had cut the lead back to just 1 point.
Coach Balcomb: I was looking for somebody to step up. They kept coming at us, and I kept calling time outs and really trying to get our players to get more aggressive and to get somebody to step up. I was trying to fire them up with energy and did my best yelling, and you could just look at some people's eyes and see who's gonna to step up, almost in the huddle, and who's listening to you. And I could see Jenni's eyes in the huddle get as mad as mine were. And that's a good sign.
What I was just telling Jenni was I think the same situation I can remember happened back at Purdue, and I wanted to kill her because she wouldn't call for the ball. She stood out there; they doubled the post, and she was wide open, and I was amazed because I think she's a great shooter and a great player, and she wouldn't call for the ball and would hesitate, and I said, "I need you to be that player to step up." And to me, I'm so proud of how far she's come since the Purdue game because we talked after that game, and that's what she needed to do, and now, later in the season, she's doing that.
The Press: It looked like you were getting mad at the refs.
Coach Balcomb: Well, on the road, I'm just trying to get my two cents in, trying to keep us in the game and trying to get a call. It's just tough on the road in the SEC. That's all I can say. That's the way it's always going to be called, and I know that going in, and a lot of it-- I do that so I don't yell at the players so much. Instead of yelling at Abi, I yell at them, poor people. (Smiling.)
The Press: Did you really think that the game was going to be as close as it was?
Coach Balcomb: Actually, I did. They have some really good players, and I think Carolyn is doing a great job because I watched a ton of filmon this team. I've been in the SEC long enough to know that every game we've won on the road has been as hard fought as this game, and I didn't expect this game to be any different. It was extremely physical. It wasn't pretty, but I think that I saw enough on film to know that they had been in every game. They had a lot of close games, and we didn't want to be the team they broke through and got a win with, and I think they will do that. They played very hard, and they played very hard for 40 minutes.
The Press: Jenni,can you talk about the difference between the halves?
Jenni: Well, honestly, the first half I don't feel I was-- I don't want to say "not there", but I wasn't doing the things the team needed me to do and really not being a factor. The second half I knew-- the game was very aggressive and very physical, and it was a close game. We knew they had had some runs, so I knew I had to step up, and if I didn't have a shot, do something else to get one of my teammates open and try to do little things that add up to big things. And I think overall as a team we did that tonight, especially in the second half when they started to come back, and we really kept our composure.
The Press: Free-throws. Vandy was 9 of 20 from the line. It's been a problem down here before, but after a game like this as a coach, what do you do?
Coach Balcomb: I think at this point in the season, we have to remain positive. It's a W, and it's a W we needed very badly. We don't want to get down. We're on a winning streak right now. I knew that they hadn't won here in years, and I didn't talk about it. I hoped maybe I could play dumb, and they wouldn't be thinking about it if they didn't think the new staff knew. (They all laugh.) A couple of people dropped the ball, so we knew, but we didn't discuss it at all. I thought maybe that would help. Things become so mental as do our free throws at the end of the game. We've been hitting free throws when they've counted all year, and we didn't do it tonight. We have to move forward. You can't dwell on that. I think we have good free throw shooters, and I'm confident the next time we'll knock it down.
The Press: Jenni, do you remember the last game down here?
Jenni: Yeah, a little bit. A little bit, yeah. I know it wasn't pretty, and I remember standing in that locker room that we're in right now mad and frustrated. I was thinking about that actually this morning at the shootaround, kind of like I don't want to have that feeling again because it's the worst feeling going home knowing that we should have won that game. It was a game that we haven't won in a long time, so it was kind of personal. But besides that, it was personal anyway because this is an SEC game, and you talk about how every game is important, and that's what we really had to focus on -- this game and .not any of the other games on the road.
The Press: Jenni, talk about the two threes -- did you just want to put the offense on your back?
Jenni: Well, coming out of the huddle, emotions were flying. I could feel my adrenalin going, and I don't know, I just wanted it. I looked at Mac in the eye, and I said "Give me the ball" and I said to her several times, and she gave me the ball, and running down the court, she was like, "All right, I'm giving it to you again." It's mental. You have to want the ball, and that's the thing I need to learn to be more consistent with -- for 40 minutes,not just when it was needed. It just happened to work out tonight, and Mac got me the ball in a position where I could score.
The Press: Did you all get into a mindset that you didn'twant to be the team they broke through against? That you were playing not to lose?
Jenni: I don't think it entered anybody's mind that we were playing not to lose. I don't think that at all. I think our team is-- everybody's on the same page, and everybody wants the same thing. We're goingto focus not on Florida, but we're going to focus on Vanderbilt, and what Vanderbilt needs to do to win. It's not about them; it's about us. I don't think that entered anybody's mind, at least I didn't feel like that.
The Press: Abi, care to add to that?
Jenni: Sorry, Abi -- I just kept going. Sorry! (Laughter.)
Abi: (Long pause, then realizes that people are waiting for an answer.) Oh, no! (Everybody laughs.) I feel the same way. I didn't feel that way at all.
The Press: Coach, how much did you feel like Chantelle's toe hurt her?
Coach Balcomb: I'll be honest with you. I think we've been in situations all seasons that have prepared us for this, whether it's been Mac being hurt or Chantelle being in foul trouble. Those are things that have happened early in the season, and I would say that early in the season, we were not sure what we could do without her on the floor for 38 minutes. And I think that's one of the neatest things is, I think we are a much better team and have a lot more confidence in the people around her. Chantelle's a great player, and that's a given, but we needed some other people to step up all season to put us in the position where when things don't go well, we're okay. And I think we're okay, and not everything went perfect. Chantelle hurt her toe early, it bothered her, and it's been bothering her, but I think we're okay.
And I'm not sure we would have been okay earlier in the season. And a lot of that has to do with the two people that are in here with me having stepped up in games, having had to play a lot of minutes, having been in big situations now and hitting big shots. The 3-point shot that Abi Ramsey hit was as big as the two that Jenni hit, and this wasn't the first time that she's hit a big three and made free throws down the stretch. She did it last game and did it again this game, and I think the supporting cast is getting better, and when Chantelle's toe is -- and I know it's going to be better and I know it's going to be healthy -- and we're going to be that much better for it, and that's the same thing we talked about when Mac was out -- he experience that people had to get at different positions, so then when Mac came back, and Mac started to get healthy, we would all be stronger for it, and that's the sign of a good team that during these times, we still win.
The Press: Coach, did you think our rebounding was key in the second half? In the first half, Florida had 8 offensive boards, and in the second half they only had three.
Coach Balcomb: Yes. I did. I thought we did a better job. In that one flurry that I called a time out, I was upset because they were starting to crash hard, and we were like one person in there and the ball was being tipped out. They weren't getting it, but we weren't checking out, but yes, down the stretch that was one of the various obvious plays, even Chantelle getting offensive rebounds on the free throws that we were missing, but also on the defensive boards, and that was a huge key for us tonight.
The Vanderbilt contingent left, and Florida Head Coach Carolyn Peck, freshman guard Sarah Lowe, and sophomore guard Kelly Stevenson came in. Coach Peck gave some opening comments.
Coach Peck: You've got to compliment Vanderbilt. They're a very talented team. Their two seniors, Ashley McElhiney and Chantelle Anderson, are both phenomenal players. Jenni Benningfield stepped up big time and scored some key baskets and got some key rebounds, and I saw that because I'm not satisifed because we didn't win; I'm impressed because our team competed after having the shooting woes that we've had -- and we had them again in the first half -- but this team doesn't quit. They keep going on and on and getting better and better and better.
I think the game was a product of two different things. The first was a lack of execution in the first half, and you've got to compliment Vanderbilt's defense, which had something to do with that, and then second half, missed opportunities, especially missed rebounds from msised free throws that we had opportunities to convert from.
But when you look at the teams that we've played, and as this team continues on, every time we step on the floor, this team gets better.
The Press: (inaudible)
Coach Peck: In the first half, it wasn't that we played bad. We didn't execute, but it wasn't because-- it was just standing trying to figure out things because of the matchup that Vanderbilt played instead of cutting loose and playing. Our team adjusted in the second half and kind of got it figured out where we wanted to get our shots from, and then we made it happen. We made good passes. Each game we've cut down on our turnovers. We've taken care of the basketball. We've done a much better job of boxing out and cutting down on second chance opportunities.
We play again on Thursday and then we play again on Saturday, and then we've got the SEC tournament. If this team keeps getting better and better, if you talk about peaking at the right time, this team had a lot to learn, and it's really a short time to do it especially with the games and the turnaround that you do in the SEC. Practice had not been a vacation; it's been tough. These kids have not backed down. They keep coming back. They keep working hard, and it's going to pay off.
And I tell you, the toughness that they're learning right now, dealing with this adversity, when we get the talent and fine-tune the skills that we have right now, we don' have to teach the toughness. That part's already here, and this team's going to be even better.
The Press: Sarah, do you think perhaps if the offense was executed just a little bit better in the first half it would have made the difference in the game?
Sarah: I think the game was definitely ours, and we let it slip out of our hands. I think if we came out and made good passes and were very aggressive and the ball goes different ways . . yeah, I think if we had made two or three shots first half . . . and penetrated the zone and things like that, definitely this game could have been ours. We definitely came out and competed. I'm sure Vanderbilt could say the same thing, but we came out and worked very hard, and the ball just fell a different way today.
The Press: Coach, with the numbers she's been putting up lately, why did Mosby play only 7 minutes?
Coach Peck: Because the way that Brittany Davis has been playing every day in practice. The way that Tamia Williams is putting the ball in the hole. The way that Tara Taylor has been practicing and getting better, and she's not going to play the point and she's not going to play center for Vanessa.
The Press: Coach, when teams collapse and left you the outside shot and everybody was tentative, how do you deal with that?
Coach Peck: I think it just comes from a confidence issue because we hadn't been shooting it very well, but I think that in the second half especially we were looking for shots and opened things up. It was really a game of strategy as well. We were trying to establish the inside out. It was the battle of the big girls inside. I think it became the battle of the backcourt between Sarah and Ashley McElhiney. But I think they were attempting to do what I was asking them to do -- making the reads -- because Vanderbilt is a big team, too. And if you're standing out there with the basketball as tall as they are and as big as they are, you kind of have to question, am I open? Can I make that pass and kind of test the waters and see what we have.
The Press: Coach, some years ago you wore a Vanderbilt uniform. Does that make this game different for you in any way?
Coach Peck: Not really. Every game to me is like the championship. I get prepared for and look forward to. One thing that I talk to my team about is normalcy, you can't get too high for one game, and too low for the other. I like to see my alma mater do well, just because it's my alma mater, but just because it's my alma mater, I don't go "Oh we have to beat them." I want to beat Vanderbilt because they're in the SEC, and I coach at Florida. And I've got a great group of kids that I coach, and I want to see them succeed.
The Press: Coach, how big a turning point were those two 3-pointers by Benningfield after you got it down to one point?
Coach Peck: It takes the wind out of your sails. When you do such a good job of working really hard and knowing that they're going to try to go to Chantelle Anderson, but Benningfield-- I watched her in high school in Kentucky, and she's a great shooter, and then when she stepped up big and hit those 3's-- I think after you get a team down and cut the lead and take the wind out of their sails a little bit, and then they come down to stop our run when she hits those 3's.
Photos of Coach Melanie Balcomb, Jenni Benningfield, Abi Ramsey, Sarah Lowe, and Coach Carolyn Peck by Micah Miller for VandyMania.