Jan. 8, 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. --The No. 24/21 Vanderbilt women's basketball team secured a 68-52 win over Ole Miss in its SEC home opener, improving to 13-2 on the season, 1-1 in league action. The Rebels fell to 10-6, 0-3 in the conference.
Junior Tiffany Clarke led the way for Vanderbilt, recording her tenth-career double-double. The forward recorded 19 points and 10 rebounds and has scored at least 13 points in eight of the last nine SEC contests.
Ole Miss was led by a double-double effort from Nikki Byrd. The Rebel forward scored 15 points while adding 13 rebounds, including seven offensive boards that helped Ole Miss outscore Vandy, 17-11, in second-chance points. Valencia McFarland added 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.
In a game that saw Vanderbilt lead most the way, but struggle to land the knockout blow, Head Coach Melanie Balcomb thought Clarke's ability to step-up in the big game was pivotal.
"(Clarke) was the only one at (the loss Thursday to) South Carolina that was aggressive and successful," Balcomb said. "She built confidence from that and brought it from South Carolina and perhaps played even better."
Clarke admitted she enjoys the challenge of a physical game that many would label sloppy, especially when asked to go against a player like the 6-4 Byrd.
"I love the high level of competition and the physicality of SEC play," Clarke said. "I like and enjoy going up against a challenge like that. (Byrd) is big and physical, but I just really like the challenge."
Early on, it looked like the script from South Carolina may be repeating itself. The Commodores committed 14 turnovers in the first half and had a scoreless drought of 6:45 that saw a 17-8 lead turn into a 17-19 deficit.
Vanderbilt ended that run when freshman Kady Schrann stole it from McFarland and Clarke converted at the other end to tie the game at 19-19. The Commodores would not trail again.
Foul trouble contributed to Ole Miss' inability to keep pace. Byrd picked up her fourth foul with 12:56 left and went to the bench. She sat for 1:49 and Vanderbilt went on a 7-0 run to open up a 43-33 lead. Byrd re-entered the game at the 11:07 mark and never fouled-out, but the Rebels were never able to get back within 10 points.
Vanderbilt has now won 17 of the last 21 meetings with Ole Miss, including eight of 12 under Melanie Balcomb.
The Commodores return to action on Thursday, January 12, when they play host to Auburn. Tipoff is set for 8:00 p.m. at Memorial Gym and the game can be seen on CSS.