March 2, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Although Vanderbilt lost another down-to-the-wire contest Sunday, the Commodores came away feeling encouraged -- not dejected.
Facing No. 12-ranked Kentucky in the regular-season for both teams, the Commodores gave the high-powered Wildcats all they could handle before eventually being saddled with a 65-63 loss in Lexington.
Jasmine Jenkins' potential game-trying shot missed the mark at the buzzer, sending the Commodores -- who had fought back from a 17-point first-half-deficit -- to their third straight loss. Kentucky made seven of eight attempts from the foul line in the final 50 seconds to fend off the Commodores.
Vanderbilt (18-11, 7-9), which lost for the eighth time in the past 10 games, will now head into the SEC tournament as the No. 8 seed, and will face No. 9-seeded on Thursday in Duluth, Ga. The Wildcats (22-7, 10-6) will be the No. 4 seed and will get a double-bye into Friday's quarterfinals.
"Losing is a great teacher," said Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb. "We haven't lost (this many games) in years, so we are learning a lot. (And) I like how my team is responding. I like our chances in postseason, to be honest with you."
Christina Foggie, the SEC's leading scorer, had a game-high 23 points and Jasmine Lister added 15 for the Commodores. DeNasha Stallworth led the Wildcats with 18.
Vanderbilt's Kristen Gaffney, who made her college debut on Thursday, scored the first points of her career, finishing with six points and five rebounds.
The forward from Cary, N.C., who has been sidelined by knee injuries since the start of last season, logged 29 minutes of playing time.
The frantic finish to the contest was nothing new for the Commodores, who have now lost seven games by six points or less since Jan. 26. All six came down to the final minute.
But Sunday's game, unlike some of the others, didn't leave the Commodores feeling disheartened. If anything, it gave the Vanderbilt players and coaches a sense of optimism about next week's tournament.
"I'm really proud of my team and their effort," said Balcomb. "We were down 17 points and fought back in a very tough environment against the No. 12 team in the country. My heart is not broken. It gives us a lot of hope for next week."
Foggie agreed, saying the Commodores gained confidence despite the outcome.
"I felt like it was the best teamwork we have had in a long time," said Foggie. I felt a lot of unity and communication. I really trusted that everyone had each other's back on defense and on offense. I wasn't hitting shots right away, but my teammates had a lot of belief in me. I think that is huge going into the tournament is sticking together and having that team work."
Vanderbilt appeared to be in big trouble Sunday when the Wildcats -- the top-scoring team in the conference -- ripped off 10 straight points to build a 32-15 lead at the 6:47 mark of the first half.
But the Commodores quickly fought back, putting together an 18-2 run that quieted the energetic crowd of 6,551. The big surge, which started and ended with 3-pointers by Lister, enabled Vanderbilt to cut Kentucky's lead to 34-33 with 28 seconds left in the half.
Foggie scored seven points during the run. The Wildcats then closed the half with a pair of free throws to take a 36-33 lead into the locker room.
The stage was then set for an intense second half, during which the teams were never separated by more than five points. Lister put the Commodores in front, 51-49, when she completed a 3-point play with 10:10 to play.
Kentucky then used a 6-0 run to rebuild a 55-51 lead with 6:47 to play, but the Commodores fought back to tie it at 56-56 on Foggie's two free throws with 1:29 to go. Kentucky's Janee Thompson broke the tie with a jumper with 1:19 remaining.
Vanderbilt came up empty on each of its next two possessions, and the Wildcats hit four straight free throws for a 64-58 lead with 28 seconds left.
But the Commodores weren't done.
A 3-pointer by Foggie cut the Wildcats' lead to 64-61, and Lister stole the ensuing inbound pass, and fed Foggie who was fouled on a drive to the basket. Foggie made both free throws to pull Vanderbilt within 64-63 with 13 seconds left.
After Kentucky's Bria Goss made 1-of-2 at the line, the Commodores had one final possession, but Jenkins' tough shot at the buzzer missed the mark.
"We've made some really good changes and I'm sincerely proud of (my team) tonight," said Balcomb. "It's disappointing to lose. This isn't a moral victory, don't get me wrong. We expected to win tonight. We expect to win every time we step on the floor. (But) we have come a long way in a very tough stretch. That takes a lot. We found that we do have the fight that it takes."