By David Dawson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Vanderbilt women don't mind winning ugly. In fact, the Commodores have have started enjoying it.
Buoyed by another gritty defensive effort, Vanderbilt won its second straight SEC game Thursday night, downing LSU 58-42 at Memorial Gym.
The Commodores (13-4, 2-2) came into the night ranked eighth in the nation in defense, surrendering just 51.6 points per game. They did even better than that against the short-handed Tigers (7-9, 1-3), who dressed only eight players.
Vanderbilt, which never trailed in the game, limited LSU to 33.3 percent shooting and held the Tigers to single-digit scoring in the second and third quarters.
"The way we are playing defense right now, it's a lot of fun," said point guard Minta Spears, who played 40 minutes and didn't commit a turnover. "We worked a lot in practice all summer and in preseason to get on the same page. ... We are sticking to the principles of our defense and it's cool to see that it is paying off. It is really exciting."
Christa Reed, the SEC's leader in 3-point percentage, went 3-of-4 from long range and finished with a game-high 15 points, and Spears added 10 points and four rebounds for Vanderbilt. Akilah Bethel finished with 11 points to lead LSU, and Alexis Hyder and Jasmine Rhodes added 10 each.
The Commodores, who have gone 12-2 since Nov. 22, are now just two wins away from matching their win total from last year, when they finished 15-16 and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first since 1999.
"We learned a lot from last year, which is what life's about," said head coach Melanie Balcomb. "This team has made some really good changes and I've just enjoyed coaching them. I think they're doing a lot of things better and better each week."
Sparked by a couple of early 3-pointers from Spears, Vanderbilt jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead in the first quarter. But LSU weathered the early surge by the Commodores, and stayed within striking distance for the rest of the half, trailing 15-11 after the first quarter and 27-20 at the half.
The Commodores, however, opened the second half with an 8-0 run, which included 3-pointers by Reed and Rachel Bell, to push the lead out to 35-20. Vanderbilt never allowed the lead to dip below 10 points the rest of the way.
Although Thursday's game didn't have much flow, Vanderbilt was effective and efficient on the offensive end. The Commodores committed just nine turnovers and shot 50 percent from the floor, finishing 24-of-48. Vanderbilt entered the game ranked 11th in the country in field-goal percentage at 47.7 percent.
The injury-plagued Tigers, meanwhile, are having a tough season offensively. They came into the night ranked 293rd in the country in scoring (57.1 points per game) and were averaging only 2.4 three-pointers per game, which ranks 342nd in the nation.
Thursday's game only compounded those problems, as LSU finished just 1-of-2 from 3-point range and made only eight field goals in the second half.
The Tigers, who lost star guard Raigyne Moncrief to an injury early in the season, were without Jenna Deemer for Thursday's game. Deemer is LSU's leading scorer over the past two months, averaging 10.1 points per game.
For Vanderbilt, Morgan Batey came off the bench to finish with eight points and four rebounds.
The Commodores have an open date on Sunday, which gives them a full week to prepare for Thursday night's trip to Knoxville to face Tennessee. Vanderbilt will be looking to beat the Lady Vols on their home floor for the first time in the program's history.