Feb. 1, 2013
The 1993 team picture
This spring marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992-93 women's basketball team that wrote its name all over the Vanderbilt record books, most notably by advancing to the NCAA Final Four. That group will be honored as part of an alumni reunion at the Vanderbilt-Ole Miss game on Sunday, Feb. 3, at Memorial Gymnasium.
The former student-athletes on that squad echoed similar feelings about what made the group so special.
"Team chemistry," former shooting guard Julie Powell said. "Even though we were a collection of very talented individuals, we truly came together as a team and played unselfishly. We respected each other on and off the court, and were dedicated to a common vision of winning a national championship. It was an amazing experience to be a member of this team and to become a part of VU sports history."
"I don't know if there was one thing," former point guard Rhonda Blades Brown (pictured at right in an NCAA Tournament game that VU hosted at Belmont) said. "I think we all got along really well. I think there was a mutual respect. I was only a sophomore that year, but I had such high regard for the juniors and seniors that I played with, and I guess I would hope that they probably respected me for working hard. I'm sure I was a goof ball, being so young, but I was really competitive. And I think that's another thing. We were all really, really competitive. Whether it was with our grades, off the court ... we just wanted to win. It was a really talented team, too. Everybody was really good at what they did."
"I just remember how we were so close as a team," Misty (Lamb) Thompson said. "We had some awesome road trips. Every time we took a trip, it was like going out with your family, just hanging out. We worked so hard together, and we all had that common goal."
Former Head Coach Jim Foster, currently leading the Ohio State Buckeyes, was in his second season at Vanderbilt during that momentous year.
"That's a group of players that came very close to maximizing their potential," Foster said. "We had a lot of interesting pieces that had to blend together, and we did that. We were able to accomplish a lot that season as a result. (In the NCAA Regional) a team that was very finesse-oriented had to win a couple games against Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana Tech that were anything but finesse games, they were very physical. And that team did what it needed to do to be successful."
Shelley Jarrard, currently the head coach at Westminster College, broke down the pieces that came together.
"We had Heidi Gillingham. That's special right there," the former starting forward said. "She was a great player. Then we had a 6'2" floor player in Misty Lamb. We had shooters on the wings in our two and three spots (Julie Powell and Jarrard), and our point guard (Blades) was scrappy and tough, and could get to the basket and shoot threes, too. We were a tall team, and we played a matchup zone, which I think was tough for a lot of teams to go against with Heidi in the middle. We played together really well."
Jarrard credits Coach Foster with providing an impetus to get her into coaching. Rhonda Blades and Misty Lamb would also join the coaching ranks after graduating from Vanderbilt.
"Jim Foster was a great coach and a great leader. He really brought us together. We had a good, confident, winning staff. Our intangibles were good and we just wanted to win. We were competitive."
Foster will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame this spring.
"It means I've had a lot of very good players and some really good assistant coaches," Foster said. "That Vanderbilt team was definitely a reflection of that. Misty and Shelley were players who made big baskets and could be counted on in the clutch. We had a young point guard (Blades) and Heidi was the anchor of our defense, but Misty, Shelley and Julie Powell--also on the perimeter--were just very, very solid, steady, good basketball players."
The game pitting No. 1 VU vs. No. 2 Tennessee sold out Memorial Gym.
Milestones flew by during the 1992-93 campaign so quickly that it was hard to keep up.
The game that stands out to Brown was VU's regional final victory over Louisiana Tech on the home court of Stephen F. Austin (whom the Commodores had defeated in the Sweet 16).
"I honestly don't know all the milestones," Brown said. "One reason we were probably pretty good is because people didn't tell us a whole lot. And there wasn't the internet. If we were on ESPN, we didn't know about it. And I didn't read the paper.
"But the game we won in Nacogdoches (Texas), with five minutes left I can remember realizing it was so close for us to go to the Final Four. If we could just win that game, we could do something that we'd never done before. They were really good, and they were Louisiana Tech, who always went to the Final Four (they had made seven previous appearances). We were Vanderbilt who'd never been before."
For many of the players on that year's squad, the biggest memory is a bittersweet one. The Commodores played host to Tennessee in a January 30 matchup that pitted No. 1
Vanderbilt against the second-ranked Lady Vols. Fans flocked to Memorial Gymnasium in such great numbers that the Fire Marshal was forced to shut the door, leaving then-Chancellor Joe B. Wyatt to watch via closed-circuit television from the Stadium Club above the Kensington Place Garage.
"Although winning the SEC Tournament was huge, my favorite memory was stepping onto the Memorial Gym floor before the VU-UT game," Powell (pictured at left cutting down the nets at the SEC Tournament) said. "The excitement and electricity in the gym were beyond description, and it was truly an unforgettable environment in which to play a women's basketball game."
Vanderbilt was undefeated heading into that UT game before narrowly losing to the Lady Vols. But Vanderbilt had a number of big wins already on its resume. The Commodores' first big splash of the year came on January 7.
The athletic department ran a promotion with local Jim Dandy Markets to give away free tickets for the matchup with nationally ranked Ohio State. A total of 12,131 fans were on hand, more than double the school's previous record crowd, to watch Misty Lamb and Heidi Gillingham score 20 points apiece before Shelley Jarrard connected on a pair of three-pointers in the final minute to secure the 70-67 victory.
In the 10 days following that victory, the 1993 squad set a pair of records that still stand for VU. On January 14, one day after the Commodore men defeated No. 1 Kentucky, the women scored a school record 124 points in a win over Oral Roberts. Three days later, Vanderbilt notched its largest margin of victory over a Southeastern Conference opponent by defeating Mississippi State by 64 points, 108-44.
Vanderbilt played eventual national champion Texas Tech in the NCAA Final Four, which sold out the Omni in Atlanta.