Women's Hoops: Vanderbilt tops Gators

The Vanderbilt Commodores defeated the Florida Gators 74-58 Thursday night in the first round of the SEC Tournament in North Little Rock, Ark. With the win, the Commodores earned the right to advance to the quarterfinals against the Georgia Lady Bulldogs on Friday night at 8:30 p.m. CT.

The game was close for the first few minutes. Florida drew first blood when Tara Taylor sank a 3-pointer following a Vandy turnover, but, as it turned out, that would be Florida's only lead of the game. A layup by Chantelle Anderson and jumper from the elbow by Jenni Benningfield gave the Commodores their first lead of the night at 4-3 two minutes into the game. Florida would tie the game once at 8-8 with 15 minutes left in the first half, but never reclaimed the lead after that.

That doesn't mean that it was easy, however. Vanderbilt jumped ahead with a 10-0 run, including 3-pointers by Ashley McElhiney and Abi Ramsey, to take an 18-8 lead with 10:32 left in the first half. But thanks to Florida's offensive rebounding and Vandy's turnovers, the Commodores weren't able to deliver a crushing blow. For several minutes the team essentially traded baskets. The Gators managed to trim the lead to just 2 points at 34-32, but baskets by Anderson and Benningfield to close the half gave the Commodores at 38-32 halftime lead.

In the first minute of the second half, Florida briefly cut the lead to 4 points at 38-34. However, a 13-1 Vanderbilt spurt, featuring a 3-pointer each from Abi Ramsey, Ashley McElhiney and Hillary Hager, over the next six minutes gave the Commodores a 16-point cushion at 51-35 with 12:59 remaining.

The Gators never cut the lead below single digits again. Florida trimmed the lead to 10 points a couple of times, but could come no closer. With four minutes left in the game, a layup by Vanessa Hayden cut the lead to 64-53, but then two consecutive 3-pointers by Ramsey and a driving layup by Ashley Earley finally put the Gators away for good. Vanderbilt's bench players took over and finished out the 74-58 victory.

Vanderbilt was led in scoring by Chantelle Anderson and Abi Ramsey with 19 points each, followed by Jenni Benningfield with 13. Hillary Hager was leading rebounder with 9, followed by Benningfield with 7. Benningfield also dished out six assists, four of them kickouts to guards, which resulted in 3-pointers.

Florida was led in scoring by Vanessa Hayden with 18 points and Tishona Gregory with 10. Freshman Bernice Mosby was leading reounder with 10.

For the game, Vanderbilt shot 59.6% from the field and 72.7% from the free throw line. The Commodores sizzled from the outside, connecting on 10 of 14 shots from behind the arc, led by Ramsey who was 5-of-6 from 3-point range.

Florida was held to only 30% shooting from the field (33% from 3-point range) but shot 91.7% (11 of 12) from the line. The Gators out-rebounded the Commodores 36-31, including 20 offensive rebounds for the Gators resulting in 25 second-chance points. Vanderbilt also turned the ball over more with 18 turnovers compared to only 11 for the Gators.

Vanderbilt now advances to the quarterfinals to face Georgia on Friday night at 8:30 CT.  Fox Sports Net will televise the game, but due to a conflict with Nashville Predators hockey, the game will be telecast in the Nashville area on Comcast Cable Channel 27 instead of the usual Channel 28.

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