Women's Hoops: 64-58 Victory over Gators

The Vanderbilt Commodores survived poor free throwing shooting and a second-half Florida comeback to defeat the Gators 64-58 Sunday afternoon at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville. The victory was Vanderbilt's fifth in a row, and their fourth straight road win.

Although Florida entered the game winless in the SEC, the Gators didn't roll over and play dead. Hillary Hager opened the scoring for the game when she sank a fastbreak layup following a steal to give Vanderbilt the initial lead of the game. A few minutes the Gators took their first and only lead of the game when freshman point guard Sara Lowe hit pair of free throws to give Florida a 7-6 lead.

After the first media timeout, Abi Ramsey's first 3-pointer of the game returned the lead to Vanderbilt. While the Gators had several good runs up their sleeve and kept coming after the Commodores the whole game, Vanderbilt never relinquished the lead after that.

But it wasn't easy. For the next five minutes, the Gator kept it close, and with nine minutes left in the half, a 3-pointer by Kelly Stevenson trimmed the Vanderbilt lead to just three points at 17-14. But then Vanderbilt staged a 9-0 run to build a 12-point lead at 26-14 with six minutes left in the half.

But with both Chantelle Anderson and Jenni Benningfield on the bench due to foul trouble, the Commodores were not able to put the game away. After the Commodores built the lead to 30-17 with three minutes left, a 7-0 Florida run cut the lead back to just six points at 30-24. A basket by Ashley Earley stopped the Gator run, giving Vanderbilt a 32-24 halftime lead.

For the first couple of minutes of the second half, the teams maintained the status quo, with a basket by Anderson two minutes into the half giving Vanderbilt a 9-point lead at 36-27. But then, thanks to some Vanderbilt turnovers and fouls and aggressive play by Florida and a suddenly energized crowd, the Gators reeled off an 8-0 run to cut the lead to just 1 point at 36-35 with 14:38 left in the half.

With the lead down to just one point and the crowd, who had had little to cheer about during Florida's 11-game conference losing streak, getting louder by the minute, Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb called a 20-second timeout.

When the Commodores returned to the court, Benningfield, with the full cooperation of point guard Ashley McElhiney, decided to take over the game. Starting with two consecutive 3-pointers, Benningfield answered Florida's 8-0 run with an 8-0 run of her own. Abi Ramsey then sank a 3-pointer to restore the Vanderbilt lead to double digits at 47-37 with 10:50 left.

After having come so close, yet falling short, it looked as if a little wind had gone out of Florida's sails, but the Gators still weren't ready to fold. With five minutes left, a jumper by Vanessa Hayden cut the lead to 6 at 52-46, but with two minutes left, Anderson's jumper from the high post gave Vanderbilt at 61-51 lead.

But even then the Gators weren't done. Missed free throws by Vanderbilt down the stretch gave Florida the chance to stay in the game, and with 16 seconds left, Florida had trimmed the lead to just 3 points with 15 seconds left.

And then Chantelle Anderson, who had seen limited action in the game after she aggravated her dislocated toe early in the game, did what seniors have to do in a tough game on the road. After Florida fouled Hillary Hager, sending her to the free throw line for a 1&1, Hager sank the first of the free throws to give the Commodores a 4-point lead at 62-58. When she missed the second, Anderson grabbed the offensive rebound. Then, when Hayden fouled Anderson for her fifth foul, Vanderbilt's senior center went to the line to shoot the bonus and sank both of the foul shots, giving the Commodores a 6-point lead with 12 seconds left.

And finally, the Gators had no answer, and the Commodores claimed a 64-58 victory, their first in Gainesville since 1995.

Vanderbilt was led in scoring by Jenni Benningfield with 18 points, followed by Abi Ramsey with 14 (including 4 of 6 from 3-point range), and Chantelle Anderson with 10. Benningfield was leading rebounder with eight, followed by Hillary Hager with six. Ashley Earley, Ramsey, and Ashley McElhiney had five each. McElhiney dished out 10 assists and Hager had three steals.

Florida was led in scoring by Sarah Lowe with 14 points, followed by Vanessa Hayden with 12. Lowe was also leading rebounder with 10, followed by Hayden with 8. Lowe added four assists and four steals.

For the game, Vanderbitl shot 46.2% from the field (7 of 17 for 41.2% from 3-point range), but only 45% from the free throw line. Florida shot 37.3% from the field (6 of 22 for 27.3% from 3-point range) and 72.7% from the free throw line. The Commodores held the edge on the boards with 38 rebounds to 35 for Florida. After Florida grabbed 8 offensive boards in the first half, Vanderbilt held them to just 3 offensive boards in the second. Florida had 15 turnovers to 18 for Vanderbilt, but both teams scored 17 points from the opponents' turnovers.

With the victory, Vanderbilt improves to 18-7 (8-4 SEC) while Florida falls to 8-17 (0-12 SEC). Next Vanderbilt travels to Knoxville on Thursday night for a Senior Night game at Thompson-Boling Arena against the Lady Vols. Then the Commodores will return home for the final home game of Chantelle Anderson's and Ashley McElhiney's career on Sunday afternoon against LSU.

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Photos of Abi Ramsey shooting the 3-pointer, Jenni Benningfield battling Vanessa Hayden, Jenni shooting the 3, Chantelle hitting the layup, Coach Melanie Balcomb explaining the game to the officials, and Ashley McElhiney by Micah Miller for VandyMania.

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