Box Score | Quotes | Notes | Highlights | Balcomb | Bell & Gaffney
By David Dawson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Kristen Gaffney knows a little something about comebacks. So it was only fitting that she was the player who capped a big one for the Vanderbilt women on Thursday night.
Gaffney, who has battled back from two knee injuries in her college career, scored the go-ahead basket with six seconds left as the Commodores rallied from a 16-point second-half deficit to down Ole Miss, 58-54, at Memorial Gym.
The dramatic victory snapped a two-game skid for the Commodores (13-10, 4-6), who closed the game on a 10-0 run. Vanderbilt has now won 17 straight against Ole Miss in Nashville.
Freshman Rachel Bell finished with a team-high 16 points and Morgan Batey added 14 for Vanderbilt. Tia Faleru, the SEC's leading rebounder, finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out in the closing seconds for the Rebels (14-9, 4-6), who dropped their fifth straight game.
Vanderbilt outscored the Rebels 34-14 over the final 13:24 to flip a 40-24 deficit into the four-point victory. Batey hit a pair of free throws with five seconds remaining to seal the win.
"We got to the point where we got down 16, and we wanted to show character and heart," said head coach Melanie Balcomb. "It didn't become about winning and losing anymore, it became about who we wanted to be. I think they let go of the result, and focused more on what we needed to do."
Bell scored 13 of her 16 points during the final 14 minutes to fuel the Vanderbilt comeback. She hit a pair of key 3-pointers during the surge, the second of which enabled the Commodores to trim Ole Miss' lead to 50-47 with with 4:20 to go. Bell finished with three rebounds and one steal, and went 6-of-7 from the foul line.
Vanderbilt's Jasmine Jenkins tied the game at 54-54 with a jumper with 2:07 to go. Both teams then had several chances to move in front, but neither could score until Gaffney got loose for a layup with six seconds left. Gaffney was fouled on the play by Faleru -- her fifth -- but missed the subsequent free throw. After the miss, Batey was fouled during a battle for the ball. Batey hit both free throws to seal the win.
Gaffney finished with just four points, but her late basket was monumental for the Commodores, who desperately needed the win.
Gaffney said the decisive play didn't develop exactly as planned.
"It was supposed to be a high-low from me to Morgan," said Gaffney. "They were crowding Morgan. Tia (Faleru) was on me tight, so I had a good hit and (made) a dribble drive."
Gaffney, a redshirt sophomore, missed her entire freshman season while recovering from an ACL injury. She then missed most of last season after another ACL tear in her other knee.
"It was really cool," she said about the game-winner. "I was out for two years, and my teammates helped me a lot, always being in my ear and telling me that I've got this or that I could do that. Knowing they have my back is a big help."
Vanderbilt was limited to a season-low 16 points in the first half, and the Commodores were down six at the break after shooting just 28 percent in the first 20 minutes. But they heated up in the second half, going 11-of-20 (55 percent) from the floor and 18-of-21 (percent) from the foul line. For the game, Vanderbilt converted 20-of-25 free throws.
The Commodores also took much better care of the basketball in the second half, committing just four turnovers. They had 14 turnovers in the first half.
Ole Miss shot 39 percent from the floor, including 3-of-15 (20 percent) from 3-point range. The Rebels also hurt themselves at the foul line, making just 9-of-19 attempts (47 percent).
Faleru had a huge game, finishing 10-of-19 from the floor, while posting her SEC-leading ninth double-double of the season.
Vanderbilt hosts No. 11-ranked Kentucky on Sunday.