By David Dawson
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Searching for their first SEC win of the season, the Vanderbilt women found themselves in the right place on Sunday afternoon: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Commodores, who opened conference play with a pair of hard-luck losses, have historically fared well on Alabama's home court -- and they continued the trend Sunday with a 54-48 victory.
Sophomore guard Christa Reed scored 15 of her game-high 17 points in the second half for the Commodores (12-4, 1-2), who trailed 36-31 at the end of the third quarter but outscored the Tide 23-12 in the final 10 minutes.
Minta Spears finished with eight points, seven rebounds and four assists for Vanderbilt. Breanna Hayden paced Alabama (12-4, 1-2) with 10 points.
It was Vanderbilt's seventh consecutive win in Tuscaloosa -- a streak that dates back to the 2003-04 season -- and head coach Melanie Balcomb improved to 16-2 against the Tide during her tenure with the Commodores. Vanderbilt has now won 20 of the last 22 games against Alabama.
"We have had some really good wins in this building through the years; some really big wins," said Balcomb. "But it's always a dogfight when you play Alabama. They are extremely scrappy and (head coach Kristy Curry) has really done some great things with that team."
Trailing by five points, Vanderbilt opened the fourth quarter with a 9-0 run to move in front, 40-36, with 6:23 to play. Rachel Bell had a pair of baskets during the surge, and Jasmine Jenkins caped it with a 3-pointer from the corner. Vanderbilt maintained the lead the rest of the way by coming up with a series of clutch shots, including pivotal 3-pointers by Reed and Spears with just under four minutes to go.
Morgan Batey also contributed a big basket, knocking down a jumper from just beyond the foul line with 2:36 to play to give Vanderbilt a 48-44 lead. VU then secured the win by hitting 6-of-8 free throws in the final 1:04.
The victory was an emotional boost for the Commodores after suffering back-to-back losses in games that were decided late. They fell to No. 2-ranked South Carolina 71-61 on Thursday night in a contest that featured 18 lead changes, and they were saddled with a 55-52 loss to Ole Miss in their SEC opener after seeing a 12-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter.
"The composure we showed today is exactly what we lacked in the loss to Ole Miss," said Balcomb. "Today, we stuck to our gameplan through the final horn."
Vanderbilt earned the victory despite a rare cold-shooting performance. The Commodores, who are ranked among the Top-10 nationally in field-goal percentage, shot just 31 percent from the floor, making 15-of-47 shots. Vanderbilt was 1-of-9 from 3-point range in the first half, but went 6-of-11 in the second half.
"We weren't making many shots, but at least we had the right people shooting the ball, so I felt good about that," said Balcomb. "And when it got loud and crazy at the end, it was great to see us make some big shots and take care of the ball."
The first half was as ugly as a bowling shoe, as Alabama slogged its way to a 20-17 lead. The teams combined to make just 12-of-51 shots from the floor (23.5 percent), including 3-of-20 from 3-point range, in the first 20 minutes.
Vanderbilt shot just 21 percent from the floor, making 5-of-23 attempts, including 1-of-9 from 3-point range. Alabama was only slightly better, making 7-of-28 attempts (25 percent), including 2-of-11 from behind the arc.
Neither team could generate any type of significant scoring run in the first half. Alabama outscored Vanderbilt 7-2 in the first 5:11 of the game, and maintained a narrow lead the remainder of the half, although the Commodores trimmed the deficit to one point on two occasions -- once at the end of the first quarter and then again near the midway mark of the second.
Vanderbilt returns home on Thursday, hosting LSU in another SEC contest.