Upset bid falls short in VU's 62-63 loss

How long does 3.1 seconds stretch? For Vanderbilt, that time will remain painfully etched until time again eases the heartache. It was that minute bit of chronological space that could have made a difference in unranked Vandy's 62-63 loss on the home court of fifth-ranked Xavier in the NCAA's Second Round. The near upset would have put Vandy in the Sweet 16 for a third consecutive time.

A three-pointer misses the mark, a rebound and a put back rimmed in and out, and then, game, season and collegiate career stopped short for four of Vandy's finest. Senior student athletes Ashlee Bridge, Lauren Lueders, Merideth Marsh and Jessica Mooney will move on to post seasons of a different sort with graduations this May.

Jence Rhoads, who had few seconds to spare for the jumper, later agonized over rushing the shot, but the playmaker gave it her all to lead Vandy with 20 points, 7 assists and 3 steals.

"Offensively we were getting shots in transition and started knocking down some threes. When it started to go wrong, Amber Harris, the great player she is, she stepped it up in the final minutes of the game," Jence said. "They were able to get it inside and get some offensive boards and finish those. We weren't able to check them out like we wanted to."

Vandy sank seven threes at key moments to lead for much of the game, getting balanced contributions from Lauren Lueders and two each from Jence, Merideth and freshman guard Gabby Smith. The team shot 90 percent from the charity stripe, including a pair of free throws from Merideth on a technical charged to Xavier's April Smith for knocking the 5-6 guard to the floor after play was over.

Merideth, who finished with 11 points and as Vandy's all time leading 3-point shooter, said, "It's a tough way to go out at the end of the season, and the end of my career. It's just tough and it's not the way you want to you. I wouldn't mistake our hustle or our hard work or anything tonight; we just fell a little bit short."

Vandy led by 10 points with just over nine minutes to go before Xavier found their shots in freshman Katie Rutan. She hit a trio of 3-balls to pare down the lead. The Muskies, as tall a team as Vandy has faced all season, held a 6-rebound edge at 41 to 35, but 23 of the pull downs were offensive rebounds contributing to 28 second chance points. Xavier advanced to the Sacramento regional semifinal and faces Gonzaga on Saturday.

Jence and Merideth, named to All SEC First and Second teams respectively, played every minute of the ‘Dores five post season games, including the two NCAA rounds and three in the SEC Tournament. Two of those victories included 45 minutes of overtime with Arkansas (65-64) and DePaul (83-76).

Last season the ‘Dores' NCAA tourney run ended in heartbreak as well in the Sweet 16 with a 74-78 loss to Maryland's come-from-behind win in the final 27.9 seconds. Senior standouts Jennifer Risper and Christina Wirth made noise with their offensive and defensive effort throughout the tourney, and people took notice of an undersized team with a lot of heart.

Risper, at 5-9, was named the nation's Defensive Player of the Year. She was single-minded in her motivation, and that was in dedicating games to teammate Hannah Tuomi, who she replaced in the post. Hannah's pain threshold was so high she played with a fractured foot for multiple games and told no one until shortly before the SEC Tournament.

Hannah charged into this post season with purpose, putting last season's sit out with the injury behind her. The 6-1 forward scored her second consecutive double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds to hold her own against brawny twin towers 6-5 Amber Harris (21 points, 7 rebounds) and 6-6 Ta'Shia Phillips (15 points, 17 rebounds). Her effort against DePaul was equally as impressive with 17 points, and a career high 12 rebounds and 6 assists.

Gabby Smith ended with 8 points and Lauren with 5 points and 6 rebounds. Rebecca Silinski drove to the basket twice for 4 points and 3 rebounds. Jessica Mooney, who awed the crowd with a sky-high leap to thrash a Xavier jump shot, finished with 2 points and 4 rebounds. Freshman Tiffany Clarke contributed 2 points and 3 rebounds. Elan Brown and Ashlee Bridge did not see court action.

Vanderbilt finished the year at 23-11 and made a school record 11th consecutive trip to the NCAA tourney with 23 appearances. The program holds a 37-23 all-time record.




Hannah Tuomi is fired up after Jence Rhoads scores a layup and is fouled.



Jessica Mooney and Lauren Lueders put hands on a rebound.



Rebecca Silinski goes after a loose ball.



Merideth Marsh prepares to shoot after a Xavier technical call for shoving her.



Jence Rhoads dribbles into front court traffic before putting up a jumper for two.



Gabby Smith hit two 3-pointers but a third was dismissed.



Vandy fans cheer on the squad during a timeout.



Hannah Tuomi tries to stop Xavier's 6-6 Ta'Shia Phillips.

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