Women's Hoops: Georgia press conference

<i>After Vanderbilt's 74-70 victory over the Georgia Lady Bulldogs, Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb, senior center Chantelle Anderson, and junior forward Jenni Benningfield answered questions from the press. First Coach Balcomb made an opening statement.</i>

Coach Balcomb: I know I've been saying this a lot, but I'm just proud of the way we came back, and I know I think it was probably one of our worst first halves, and halfway through the second half, we still weren't playing well. I thought they did a great job of pressuring us, really taking things away from us, out-rebounding us, and for some reason, down the stretch we really really stepped up, and all of a sudden we were getting the deflections, we were checking out, and we were doing all the things that we hadn't done for most of the game. And I think the biggest thing I'm proud of is the way they came back and the heart they showed down the stretch. I think we're getting a lot of confidence winning in close games, and that feels very good.

The Press: Jenni, when Chantelle went out, you stepped up and took it upon yourself to carry the load inside, can you talk about that?

Jenni: Well, when Chantelle went out, like you said, I knew I had to pick it up, and the rest of the team -- whoever was out there -- knew we had to step it up and give a little extra. We did that tonight. It wasn't just me; it was everybody out there, and I'm really proud of the bench, too, because it was great playing and being tired and looking over to the bench and seeing all that energy. That itself gives you energy on the court, and Chantelle, when she was out, was the first one to meet everybody, and that says a lot about her and how much she loves the game and loves our team and how much she's willng to give to the team. So I think it was everybody, not just myself, that picked it up.

The Press: Chantelle, they were able to hold on and come back while you were on the bench. Can you talk about that?

Chantelle: Well, they've had a little too much practice playing without me, with me in foul trouble, although for the most part I've been doing a good job staying out of foul trouble for a while. But I just think that everybody stepped up. Jenni wanted the ball in her hands, and she did a great job of creating shots for herself and finishing, and she was just playing so hard. And then we picked it up. We really did. I just wanted to be a leader, even though I was on the bench. I knew I couldn't do stuff on the court because I was in foul trouble, but, like Jenni said, when they came to timeouts, I just wanted to run out there and give them energy and keep cheering and,I don't know, that was just something I was thinking on the bench. And that helped me to stay in the game, and so because I did that, and because they played great, and I was able to go out and congratulate them and stay in the game when I did go back in, I was into the game. I didn't feel like I had been sitting out for so long. I felt like I was still one with the team, and that was what made me able to go back in there and step it up at the end.

The Press: Coach, Nicole Jules hasn't played much since the SEC season began, and here, in a big game in a high pressure situation, you send her in and she scores the basket that puts Vandy back in the lead. Can you talk about your decision to put her in, and Jenni and Chantelle, could you talk about it?

Coach Balcomb: I think it's great when somebody comes in, especially as a freshman -- yes, she got to play yesterday and did a great job, so I knew with Chantelle out if Jenni or Ashley Earley got in trouble, I was going to go to Nicole because of how she played late in the game yesterday, and I was confident putting her in, and I thought she did a great job when she came in there.

Chantelle: I was just so happy to see Nicole play well when she went in there. Again, we were sitting there talking and staying in the game the whole time on the bench, and I knew she was ready to go in by what she was saying on the bench, and it was just great that she could go in and give us some quality minutes while giving Jenni a rest.

Jenni: I have to agree with Chantelle knowing that she was ready to play because looking at her when she came in and got me out of the game, I looked her right in the eyes, and she had so much confidence in her eyes, and I was like, "You've got this, go out there and do your thing," and she did. That's awesome. As hard as she practices every day and pushes us, it was great to see her go out there and do it.

The Press: This game was reminiscent of the first half in the earlier game against Georgia in Nashville. Did that give you take that to heart at the half?

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, I did, actually. I felt better when I thought about it at halftime. I was very upset at half about the way we were playing and the turnovers, how ugly it was and the fouling and the not checking out. I was really upset about how we played. I could not believe it was a one-point game. I kept saying to myself and my staff, I can't believe that we're only one point down right now. That was horrible. But at the same time, I did think back to when it was horrible when we played Georgia last time. I talked about that before the game, how last time it was just a turnover-fest and it basically came down to who turned the ball over last, and that's how we scored. They turned it over, and Abi scored. We had a possession to win it, and we turned it over, and that's what gave them the possession. I thought about that. I did. That really made me feel a little better, saying maybe it's just going to be an ugly game every time we play Georgia and we could still win this game.

The Press: Did you think about putting Chantelle back in earlier? Were you debating it when he put Christi Thomas back in?

Coach Balcomb: I need to tell you that I have all the faith, and I put Chantelle in in the first half. Early on in the year, I wouldn't have, but Chantelle has played much smarter. She's played much better with foul. I had the confidence of putting Chantelle in. The reason I didn't was how well Ashley Earley was playing. Ashley Earley was playing very very well, very aggressive, was rebounding, and I thought if Ashley Earley could continue to give us one or two more positive minutes like that, it could save Chantelle for even a little longer. It really had everything to do with Ashley Earley. She was playing so well I almost didn't want to take her out. Ashley Earley stepped up -- a blocked shot, it was unbelievable. (Players laugh.)

Chantelle: That was great. That was so exciting.

Coach Balcomb: Ashley Earley posted up stronger than anybody else. Jenni hit a lot of her baskets from the perimeter, but Ashley Earley was a presence in the post all night. Our guards just couldn't get her the ball. And I loved how aggressive she was.

The Press: Speaking of the guards, that's where most of their offensive rebounds came from, same problem with LSU tomorrow, will you key on that again?

Coach Balcomb: There's not a lot to do. It's an effort skill. We just have to check out. We have to learn from tonight. There's not practice time where you can fix things. We talked about it every timeout. There was a run there where Kendrick, their point guard, had three rebounds in a row. We just have to find a player, make contact, and check 'em out.

The Press: Chantelle and Jenni, what were you two just noticing on the stats that you were talking about? (Referring to some conversation between the two while they were looking at the box score; players laugh.)

Chantelle: Well, she made a comment-- the question was about guard rebounds, and so I looked at Alexis Kendrick and she had nine rebounds, and I was like, "Dang!" And then seven of them were offensive, and I was like,"Dang!"

Coach Balcomb: We were aware of that; we just didn't fix it. We've got 24 hours to fix it.

After the press conference, VandyMania talked with Jenni Benningfield about her feelings about the game in which she scored her 1000th point as a Commodore.

VM: Jenni, when you look back on tonight's game 15 or 20 years from now, what do you want to remember?

Jenni: Honestly? I want to remind myself of the feeling that I had; I felt almost unstoppable. I felt like I was in a zone, and I just wanted the ball. I had so much confidence in my-- to have that confidence, especially with Chantelle on the bench, I knew she was going to be back in and help me, but the confidence that my teammates had in me, and they gave me the ball and stuff -- it was just a great feeling. You don't have that feeling every night. I just wish I could put that in a little bag and keep it for every game. But I had a lot of confidence tonight. I don't know what it was, I'm not saying that I don't have confidence, but it was a little extra tonight. So it was great. It was a great feeling tonight.

VM: Are there any particular moments or things that stand out as you think back?

Jenni: Honestly? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is running down the floor, we were going to defense, and I was so tired, so fatigued, and I remember looking at the bench and seeing everybody jumping up and down. We had just scored, and that itself gave me a boost of energy. I just felt like-- I'm getting goosebumps right now talking about it. It got me a little bit extra to go down and do something else. So that was awesome. I even told the bench. I was like, "To have you all there, that's awesome. You don't understand how much that helped, how much it means." That'd be the first thing.

VM: You passed your 1000th point tonight?

Jenni: Yeah, I did. I didn't know when-- when I got 12 points. I broke it.

VM: So you weren't aware at the time?

Jenni: I knew I was close, but I didn't know how many.

VM: So that's not a particularly big milestone for you?

Jenni: Well, I mean, honestly, I didn't really know what to expect as my role coming in to Vanderbilt, but then this year, as much as I've grown to like the system and stuff, I put that as my goal to do before I graduate, and it just came quicker than I thought it would. So I'm very excited about that, but that's an individual goal, and I would trade that for a championship any day, so my focus is really it's great I got it, but let's move on to tomorrow.

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