Highlights | Balcomb | Batey & Gaffney
By David Dawson
NASHVILLE -- It wasn't exactly a frantic comeback. More like a slow and steady march.
But in the end, it was just what the Vanderbilt women needed.
Holding Arkansas without a field goal over the final 12:26 of the second half, the Commodores rallied for a gritty 55-53 victory on Thursday night at Memorial Gym.
Vanderbilt (11-8, 2-4) closed the game on a 20-7 run to overcome an 11-point deficit against the Razorbacks (11-7, 1-5), who missed their final 18 field goal attempts of the game.
Rebekah Dahlman's layup with 1:48 remaining gave Vanderbilt its first lead of the night, 49-47, and the Commodores held on from there during an eventful finish. Vanderbilt, which trailed 32-23 at the half, improved to 8-2 at home.
"A win in the first place was great, but to show each other that we can dig ourselves out of a hole is a huge confidence booster and mirrors how our season is going," said Vanderbilt junior Morgan Batey. "We started in a hole at the beginning of the SEC season, and if we can have that fight mentality to get back out of it as we get closer to the second half of the season, that will be huge. We have that mindset that we are going to fight together and fight for each other."
Rachel Bell and Kristen Gaffney finished with 11 points each for the Commodores, who did not attempt a 3-pointer in the second half. Kelcey Brooks, the SEC's leading scorer, had a game-high 20 points for the Razorbacks.
Freshman Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau finished with five blocked shots. She is the first Vanderbilt player to block five or more shots in a game since Liz Sherwood had six against LSU on Jan. 10, 2008.
Gaffney came off the bench to play a pivotal role for the Commodores, going 5-of-8 from the floor. In addition to her 11 points, she filled out her stat line with four rebounds. three assists, two blocks, one steal.
"I think we just needed a little more fight, a little more second effort, so I just went in there and wanted to be strong and attack," said Gaffney.
It was the Commodores' ninth straight win over Arkansas at Memorial Gym, although this one was certainly shaky.
Arkansas owned a 46-35 lead after Brooks hit a 3-pointer with 12:26 remaining. Then the Razorbacks went stone cold, and were held scoreless for more than nine minutes. After McKinley Bostad made a free throw with 10:14 to go, Arkansas didn't score another point until Brooks hit a pair of foul shots with 40 seconds left. During the Razorbacks' drought, Vanderbilt flipped a 47-39 deficit into a 51-47 lead.
Arkansas closed the gap to one point on two occasions in the final 35 seconds, but the Commodores escaped with the win when Jessica Jackson missed a potential game-tying jumper just before the horn.
First-year Arkansas head coach Jimmy Dykes, the former ESPN broadcaster, was understandably disappointed about how things unfolded in his first trip to Memorial Gym as a head coach.
"We missed our last eighteen shots. It's simple as that," he said. "We had the game under control. … We just didn't play well enough to win against a good team on the road. Vanderbilt's a good team."
The Commodores, who entered the night ranked second in the SEC in field goal percentage, shot just 44 percent from the floor, and also struggled at the foul line, making just 8 of 17 attempts (47 percent). But the Vanderbilt defense held firm, limiting Arkansas to 22 percent shooting in the second half (6-of-27) and 35 percent for the game.
"In the last four minutes of the first half, we went zone," said head coach Melanie Balcomb. "We had been in man and tried different things on the ball screens. (We tried) three different things and none of them were working. We ended up going zone and that’s when we made that run at the end of the half with that group. Then I started that group the second half, and we played zone the rest of the half until the very end."
Arkansas finished 4-of-19 from 3-point range, including 1-of-9 in the second half. Vanderbilt went 3-of-4 from 3-point range in the first half -- all coming from Bell -- but did not attempt a 3-pointer in the second half.
Vanderbilt visits Alabama on Sunday.